Stop Harassment & Violence Against the Public Health Workforce
We need to better support, protect, and assure the safety and diversity of our public health workforce to enhance service delivery and public health protections for communities.
Workplace violence in the forms of harassment and threats has added to the already immense pressure the public health workforce is experiencing as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in an under-resourced and outdated public health infrastructure. Many in the public health workforce feel demoralized, under-appreciated, frightened, scared and burned out – contributing to high departure rates and those remaining often feeling unsafe while doing their jobs.
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 CDC should establish a national reporting system for incidents of violence against the public health workforce.
The federal government should 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 multi-year federal funding for state and local public health agency infrastructure so that improvements are sustainable, and that funding reaches all state, tribal, and local public health agencies. These funds should include accountability measures, such as agreed upon performance indicators and accreditation standards.
Make a sustained federal investment in the public health workforce. Congress has provided support for additional public health workers in the American Rescue Plan Act. This investment needs to be sustained along with federal scholarships, loan repayment programs, and other funding and training opportunities to recruit and retain a diverse and prepared public health workforce to protect communities across the nation.
Modernize public health data systems. Full funding for implementation of the CDC’s Public Health Data Modernization Initiative to upgrade critical systems and technology at all levels of government, facilitate electronic data transmission, and enable inter-operable data exchange among federal, tribal, state, and local agencies.
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.
STOP! Partner Group: Supporting the Public Health Workforce and Working to Stop Threats & Harassment
To support public health professionals and assist in addressing ongoing violence, harassment, and threats, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is collaborating with a number of partners across various sectors to develop, share, and disseminate information and resources to help further define and understand the nature and scope of the issue; advance efforts to deter and protect violence and threats; and support the public health workforce.
Members of the STOP! Partner group include representatives from:
Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
de Beaumont Foundation
East Tennessee State University Center for Rural Health Research
Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)
International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
Johns Hopkins Psychosocial, Organizational, and Environmental Total Worker Health® Center in Mental Health (POE Center)
Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Training Initiative
National Association of Local Boards of Health (NALBOH)
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
Network for Public Health Law (Network)
O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law School
University of Southern California, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation