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The COVID-19 pandemic has put America’s public health system under the microscope and if there was one clarity that has developed around America’s response, it’s that in terms of emergency preparedness. in public health, the United States was woefully underprepared and underfunded.
Part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 set out to address this with $2 billion to build capacity to meet ongoing COVID-19 public health response priorities, as well as to develop, train and support state, tribal, territorial public health workforces and premises.
About $34 million has been earmarked in Minnesota for use at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and distribution to local and tribal public health departments, says Mickey Scullard, interprogram coordinator for the Minnesota Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response.
MDH supports an initiative by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (SPH) called “Minnesota Prepared,” a collaboration between the school, MDH, and local public health agencies in Minnesota, with a $2 million grant.
Minnesota Prepared is particularly focused on public health emergency response capacity, says Craig Hedbergprofessor at the SPH and principal researcher of the project.
“One of the things we’ve seen during the pandemic is that our public health system was really unprepared and overwhelmed in many ways,” Hedberg said. “There was recognition that we needed to reinvest in building the public health workforce, both in terms of hiring young people and training people who are already in the system.”
Minnesota Prepared has two key components: strengthening public health personnel by broadening the pathway to careers in public health agencies and revitalizing education and training by creating preparedness and preparedness education and training materials. emergency response for public health professionals.
A much-needed injection of funding
MDH’s Scullard, who acts as liaison between SPH and MDH for Minnesota Prepared, says that public health in the United States has been underfunded for decades. Nationally, more than 50,000 public health workers lost their jobs in the 2008 recession and many were never replaced.
The question now, says Scullard, is, “How can we help people get others interested in public health preparedness and give them some of the skills they will need? Because it’s not a question of whether you’re going to participate in a disaster response. That’s when.
Minnesota Prepared should help with that.
Broadening the pathway to careers in public health
Betsy Wattenbergprofessor at SPH and associate dean of education and student engagement, and Ruby Nguyen, an associate professor at SPH, are leading the effort to attract more people to careers in public health. This effort includes increasing the number of internships offered to SPH students and students in the University’s public health minor.
Wattenberg says the internships will place students in state, local and tribal public health agencies, working specifically on projects related to emergency response and preparedness.
“Agencies that have never had a student before or have been unable to fund one…can apply to have an intern,” she said.
Nguyen has also developed a real-world case study competition where groups of undergraduate and graduate students will work on a solution to a public health crisis. And a new SPH seminar series, developed by Nguyen in partnership with MDH, targets undergraduate students interested in a career in public health.
A terrible toll
COVID-19 has amplified health inequities in Native American communities – American Indians or Alaska Natives were 3.5 times more likely to be hospitalized – and the grant expands training opportunities and internship at more rural and tribal public health agencies.
“This program is a good opportunity for us,” said the associate professor Linda Frizzellwho runs the SPH Minor in American Indian Health and Wellness and has lived on the Leech Lake Reserve for many years.
As Minnesota Prepared’s primary tribal health liaison, Frizzell is well versed in tribal public health issues. “Our workforce for any tribal program anywhere in the country is in desperate need of professionals and it makes no difference what race you are,” she says. “To be a professional and work in Indian country, you just need to know how the tribal health system works.”
Revitalize education and training
Sara Hurley, SPH’s assistant dean for learning innovations, leads the revitalization of the education and training component of Minnesota Prepared. In the early 2000s, SPH’s education and outreach teams developed educational simulations and games to generate interest in public health and experience what critical decision-making would be like. in times of crisis. The problem is that these games and simulations have not been updated for almost 20 years.
The Education and Training team uses funding from Minnesota Prepared to update these tools, revise existing training, and create new education opportunities for people in the workforce looking to learn targeted skills and to update volunteers in case of emergency.
“The grant is about improving our response to COVID-19, but it’s also about building our capacity to respond to any natural or man-made disasters,” Hurley says.
Prepared for new challenges
After decades in the field, Hedberg knows that if one thing is certain, it is that new challenges will arise in public health. It is therefore essential to have a trained workforce that has the capacity to meet all these challenges.
MDH’s Scullard agrees. “[The School of Public Health] think long term with this funding. Let’s put some things in place, let’s set the framework and the structure…because disasters don’t go away.
About the School of Public Health
The University of Minnesota School of Public Health improves the health and well-being of people and communities around the world by bringing innovative research, learning, and real action to today’s biggest health challenges. today. We prepare some of the most influential leaders in the field and collaborate with health services, communities and policy makers to advance health equity for all. Learn more at sph.umn.edu.