Public Health Workers Need Support, Not Pressure or Politicization

Public health workers, including public health leaders, are essential to our country getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control and returning to some level of normalcy. However, over the last few months, public health departments have come under intense criticism for their calls to enact basic and evidence-proven interventions. This pressure is affecting turnover in health departments at a time when we need dedicated public servants more than ever.

CDC Foundation president and CEO Judy Monroe, MD last week authored an op-ed in the NY Daily News stressing the importance of supporting public health workers and warning that turnover in public health leadership is dangerous for our country during this dire emergency.

She explains that the resignation of New York City’s health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot is just one example of a growing trend. “I am disheartened and frightened to know that more than a dozen health officers in the 50 state health departments charged with protecting the public’s health have resigned, retired early, been fired and even been subjected to threats over the last several months,” says Dr. Monroe.

This trend is occurring amidst a growing politicization of public health. Dr. Monroe reminds us that public health workers and departments are not political and work tirelessly to protect us all. Their job is to use science and data to advise local, state and federal policymakers, provide health education to communities and administer health services. The research and guidance that comes out of public health is also used in clinical environments like hospitals and clinics in order to provide better care for patients.

Dr. Monroe is aware of the stresses and anxiety of this moment in time writing, “I understand the frustrations we all feel from lockdowns, economic upheaval and uncertainty with a mutating virus. But threatening our public health officials for doing their jobs in the middle of a dangerous health crisis puts all of us at risk.”

She expresses that our public health professionals are working tirelessly to protect us from a virus we are learning about in real time. “Our American public health protection force should never be politicized, especially during a pandemic,” Dr. Monroe explains. Instead, she emphasizes that we should elevate their voices and trust their leadership. Dr. Monroe urges us to remember, “Their leadership to help guide us through the pandemic and all public health emergencies will ensure we are able to emerge successfully on the other side.”

Pierce Nelson is the vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.