Health Departments Must Plan for Changing Workforce, Study Finds

February 8, 2018

This article originally appeared in The Source and is reprinted here with permission. 

State health departments are lagging in planning for the replacement of retiring employees, according to a survey from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Roughly 85 percent reported they have no plan.

β€œThe diminishing ratio of public health workers and high percentages of those eligible for retirement are of concern to maintaining an effective public health system,” said Amy Eyler, associate professor and principal investigator of the study, β€œAdministrative Evidence-based Practices in State Chronic Disease Practitioners,” published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Public Health, Brown School

Less than 15 percent of respondents reported their department had a plan to replace upcoming retirees. The survey also found areas for improvement in the quality of leadership and in levels of collaboration with health plans and health systems within a number of states.

Researchers surveyed 571 chronic-disease practitioners who worked in state health departments across the United States. Questions were based on the five major domains of administrative evidence-based practices: workforce development; leadership; organizational culture and climate; relationships and partnerships; and financial processes. For instance, only 3 in 10 surveyed agreed that their health department collaborated with health plans, and nearly 87 percent agreed they health departments need to develop partnerships in both health and other sectors to address health issues within their state.

Brown School co-authors on the study are Cheryl Valko, program manager at the Prevention Research Center; Ramya Ramadas, research fellow at the Prevention Research Center; and Ross Brownson, the Bernard Becker Professor and director of the Prevention Research Center. Marti Macchi and Zarina Fershteyn of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors in Atlanta also participated.

Ross C. Brownson headshot
Steven H. and Susan U. Lipstein Distinguished Professor of Public Health, Brown School and School of Medicine