Stop Harassment & Violence Against the Public Health Workforce
Ongoing workplace violence, harassment, and threats against public health agencies and professionals are stymying our public health system just when we need it most. Many in the public health workforce feel demoralized, under-appreciated, scared, and burned out – contributing to high departure rates and concerns about safety while on the job.
The STOP! Partner Group – a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and over 16 multi-disciplinary partners representing public health, law enforcement, government, national associations, philanthropy, public health law, and advocacy – is working to better support, protect, and assure the safety of our public health workforce to enhance service delivery and public health protections for communities.
It’s Time to Take Action.
Stop Harassment and Violence Against the Public Health Workforce
A survey of local health departments in the United States identified at least 1500 incidents of harassment and violence against public health workers in health departments nationwide between March 2020-January 2021, with more than half of responding agencies reporting at least one incidence of harassment. Attacks and intimidation of public health workers have ranged from protests and release of personal information to death threats and even shots fired at their homes. Many workers’ family members have also been targeted, while others have received threats related to race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. These incidents denigrate the social fabric of communities and jeopardize worker and community health and well-being.
A 2021 CDC study of the public health workforce found 26% of respondents experienced work-related stigma or discrimination, 24% felt bullied, threatened, or harassed because of work, and 12% received job-related threats because of work.
In October 2021, The New York Times found over 500 health department leaders had departed their positions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, our nation faces a leadership void at public health agencies across the nation, leaving us ill-prepared for future public health crises.
The federal government should (1) establish a national reporting system for incidents of violence against the public health workforce and (2) provide legal protections for public health workers facing harassment and violence.
Rebuild the Public Health System
Building back the nation’s public health infrastructure is an urgent need. We are working with a chronically underfunded and insufficiently staffed public health infrastructure yet having to address more complex public health challenges and support the needs and health of a growing population.
It is important to ensure the nation’s public health system is well-prepared to not only respond to COVID-19 but also to future pandemics. The Bipartisan Policy Center offers recommendations on how to better position our public health system for future emergency response.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing (September 29, 2021) focuses on “Upgrading Public Health Infrastructure: The Need to Protect, Rebuild, and Strengthen State and Local Public Health Departments.”
Public Health Forward: Modernizing the U.S. Public Health System defines a vision for a modernized 21st century public health system and provides a strategic action framework for policymakers and public health officials to guide decision-making and investments.
Guarantee federal funding for sustained upgrades, investment, and support for (1) state and local public health agency infrastructure, (2) the public health workforce, and (3) modernized public health data systems.
Protect the Statutory Authority of Public Health
Public health emergency authority is an essential component of a well-functioning government. Throughout our nation’s history, state and local agencies have taken actions to save lives, such as imposing quarantines, abating nuisances, and administering life-saving vaccines. Public and political pushback against COVID-19 protections coupled with growing hostility towards evidence-based thinking and science have led to increasing efforts to roll back public health authority.
The Network for Public Health Law (Network) describes efforts to roll back public health authority in states across the country and explores legislative efforts to strengthen public health authority to contain and prevent communicable disease.
The federal government should implement legal strategies and federal funding incentives to support effective emergency public health authority at the state and local levels.