Thousands of specialists hired to staff up health agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic are now being laid off as the virus fades from American consciousness.
The CDC Foundation, a non-profit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hired around 4,000 epidemiologists, communications staffers and nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic to fill staffing shortages at health agencies battling the virus. Now, the foundation expects that no more than 800 of those hires will continue to staff health agencies as pandemic relief funds dry up, spokesperson Pierce Nelson told Kaiser Health News.
“The public health workforce in the U.S. has been underfunded for decades — just before the start of the pandemic, only 28% of local health departments had an epidemiologist or statistician” https://t.co/imo6fydNq0
— Amesh Adalja (@AmeshAA) November 14, 2022
The organization was granted $289 million in COVID-19 relief funding by Congress, most of which has been spent up by now, according to KHN. Many state and local health agencies are now being forced to make do at the same staffing levels they had before the pandemic.
Foundation-funded jobs were always intended to be time-limited, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic remained a pressing emergency. President Joe Biden declared in September that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, although he added a caveat that the virus itself will stay around. Still, his administration is keeping in place the COVID-19 public health emergency until at least January, allowing a number of pandemic-era programs to continue functioning.
Health officials are expecting a new tranche of about $3 billion in relief funding sometime this month, according to KHN, but that money will come after most of the Foundation-funded employees have seen their contracts run out and moved on to new ventures.
Brian Castrucci, head of the de Beaumont Foundation, told KHN that the layoffs represent a failure to stay prepared for future pandemic threats. ““You’re basically saying, ‘We will wait for the fire to burn until we hire the firefighters,’” he said. (RELATED: Countries That Pursued ‘Zero-COVID’ Lockdowns Have The Least Immunity From The Virus, Report Finds)
Advocates say the public health sector has long been underfunded, leading to critical staffing shortages. A 2020 investigation by the Associated Press and KHN found that just over one-quarter of local health departments in the United States had an epidemiologist or statistician on staff.