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Legislation aims to rebuild public health departments in Minnesota and other states

Similar to healthcare facilities across the country, public health departments are struggling to find employees to fill important jobs as the COVID pandemic continues. This includes Cook County’s public health department.

To address the issue, Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Tina Smith introduced legislation titled ‘Strengthening the Public Health Workforce Act.’

According to Smith, America is facing an alarming public health workforce shortage. Since 2008, local and state health departments have lost nearly a quarter of their workforce and are facing a looming retirement crisis, with almost a quarter of health department staff currently eligible for retirement and 55 percent of local public health professionals already over age 45.

During a WTIP interview Jan. 20, Smith said the legislation would reauthorize a program that provides education loan repayment assistance of up to $35,000 for each year of service to individuals who work in a state, local, or tribal public health department, Smith said. The legislation would also shorten the obligated service time period from three years to two years and expand the eligibility requirements to include those with degrees in public health, epidemiology, data systems, data science, data analytics, informatics, and statistics.

According to Smith’s office, the legislation is endorsed by the National Association of County and City Officials, the Minnesota Local Public Health Association and the Association of Minnesota Counties.

Smith spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs live during the Daybreak program Jan. 20. Listen to the full interview in the audio below.