Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is pushing for the implementation of Health Force, her multibillion-dollar public health legislation passed in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) earlier this year. Gillibrand successfully secured nearly $8 billion for her Health Force legislation – the Health Force, Resilience Force, And Jobs To Fight COVID-19 Act – to create a robust public health workforce to aid vaccine distribution and mobilize community leaders to improve health outcomes in their communities. Now, as COVID-19 Delta variant rates surge across the nation and cases are likely to rise significantly in the fall and winter months, it is imperative that vulnerable communities and health leaders have the resources and capability to distribute vaccines equitably and efficiently, and trusted messengers with whom they can talk through their concerns. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gillibrand pushes to ensure implementation of her ARP-passed provisions behind Health Force in Section 2501, the public health workforce provision, aligned with its original intent, including the implementation of labor standards and wages no less than $15 an hour plus benefits, and targeted hiring in underserved communities.
“As the Biden administration works to implement Health Force, it is vital that this landmark program is closely aligned with Congress’s original intent to create an equitable, efficient, and sustainable public health workforce,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Now that we have secured this bill in Congress, we must revisit implementation standards and use this opportunity to build trust in community-centered health care and build a stronger public health system. We are seeing shortages in the health care workforce in New York and across the country, and Health Force will help equip workers with the skills to go into this growing industry. Implementing a legislative and programmatic endeavor on this scale requires great precision and I am committed to seeing this process through to ensure it is administered efficiently and sustainably.”
Over the last decade, the nation’s public health workforce lost nearly 40,000 jobs, while state and local budgets were slashed by 16% and 18%, respectively. Hospitals across the country have been facing a nursing shortage throughout the pandemic, making it difficult for hospitals to meet rising patient needs. In the Capital Region, two of the largest health care employers have stated they are struggling to recruit nurses – a shortage that is only expected to grow. Researchers project that by 2030 New York State could be short as many as 39,000 nurses, leaving hospitals, nursing homes, and patients in jeopardy. To make matters more urgent, it is expected that 80%-85% of the population would need to be vaccinated by the end of 2021 to prevent a revival in case numbers to 2020 levels. The pandemic has also magnified the systemic health inequities rural, Black, Latino and Indigenous communities have faced for far too long that can often lead to anxiety and distrust toward medical treatment, including vaccine hesitancy.
As the United States continues to battle the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild the economy, the Health Force, as intended, would support overburdened state and local health departments, provide jobs for thousands of unemployed Americans, build public health capacity in underserved communities, and directly support the nation’s efforts to recover. When implemented properly, these community-based public health jobs are known to improve local health outcomes, including vaccination rates, and would help ensure every community is positioned to meet its most pressing needs with trusted partners. Gillibrand is calling for the administration to prioritize equitable hiring and service in low-income and underserved “focal communities,” to pay at least 15 dollars an hour plus benefits, and implement targeted hiring plans that prioritize hiring workers from socially vulnerable communities. Specifically, the letter requests:
- A clear definition of “focal communities” that would be used to prioritize Health Force funding and activities in communities that are low-income, underserved, or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
- Recruitment efforts for Health Force workers within their home communities, including efforts to recruit among “focal communities” as well as dislocated workers, individuals with barriers to employment, veterans, new entrants in the workforce, underemployed or furloughed workers, graduates and students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and historically marginalized populations.
- Hiring preferences to individuals who are dislocated workers, individuals with barriers to employment, veterans, new entrants in the workforce, underemployed or furloughed workers, paraprofessionals in harm reduction and similar fields, or community-based nonprofit or public health or health care professionals, from focal communities as described above, or unemployed or underemployed individuals.
- Robust and specialized job training for Health Force workers.
- Fair employment and compensation for Health Force workers including full-time employment, no less than a $15 an hour wage, and benefits in accordance with the Service Contract Act.
- Sustainability of the Health Force to ensure long-term viability and its ability to address public health challenges after the pandemic.
Full text of the letter can be found here.