The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront the important work of public health officials. Public health departments had a significant role in helping people understand health and safety issues around COVID-19, including avoidance strategies and vaccination.
Although public health took on a more open role in the pandemic, it has been quietly carrying on its work for decades to ensure Americans are aware of health safety.
One public health organization, The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), serves 3000 local health departments, and provides professional resources and programs, and supports local public health practices and systems.
NACCHO is dedicated to everything from the pandemic public health and safety to infectious disease issues toother more nuanced issues such as addressing health equity and looking at social determinants associated with it.
The organization receives funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in turn NACCHO provides awards towards city and county health departments for public health initiatives. For example, NACCHO recently announced awards for $2.3 million in funding to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases in healthcare settings.
NACCHO Chief Executive Officer Lori Tremmel Freeman says the funding for this initiative will go towards 24 health departments across the country to help build up programs around antimicrobial resistance, and prevent healthcare-associated infections in prisons, dialysis centers, and other at-risk facilities. The project expands upon the first year of the BLOC COVID-19 Demonstration Site project by allowing local health departments to go beyond COVID-19 response and address other healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial resistant pathogens.
Another infectious disease area NACCHO is involved in is STI prevention. And much like the rest of the medical and health fields, COVID-19 greatly diminished their ability to carry out some of its programs, education, etc. NACCHO’s 2020 Report from the Field showed the pandemic wreaked havoc on STI prevention and care across the country—with STI clinics closed or operating at limited capacity, while partner notification had to be conducted virtually, and mobile outreach for testing significantly limited, if not stopped all together. Additionally, staff were redirected to the COVID-19 response that continues to significantly challenge the capacity of local health department STD programs.
Public health departments had to find a way to continue their efforts despite dealing with staffing shortages. Tremmel Freeman says that going into the pandemic, they had lost approximately 21% of their workforce over the previous decade for a variety of reasons.
“We were facing a situation where we had to redeploy people in health departments away from their typical public health work, including their work that they do to prevent other infectious diseases such as sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and measles—it really was not an ideal situation,” explained Tremmel Freeman.
Contagion spoke to Tremmel Freeman who provided some insights about the organization, discussed some of their infectious disease initiatives, and the challenges associated with public health staffing and funding.