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University Consortium to Research Public Health Workforce Challenges

A $4.7 million cooperative agreement from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is allowing six universities to form a consortium to address public health challenges by conducting workforce research, evaluation and analysis.

The Consortium of Workforce Research in Public Health (CWORPH) includes the University of Minnesota, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, Indiana University, University of Washington and East Tennessee State University.

The consortium founders note that public health infrastructure in the U.S. has lost up to 20 percent of its practitioners since 2008. The COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the already underfunded and understaffed system, which presents a serious need to increase workforce capacity for current and future emergencies.

Led by the Center for Public Health Systems at the U of M School of Public Health (SPH), CWORPH’s research will look at what drives turnover, ways to recruit and retain staff and how to fill workforce gaps.

“Our country badly needs a larger and more stable public health workforce, equipped with the requisite tools to address contemporary challenges and threats,” said SPH Interim Dean Timothy Beebe, in a statement. “We are excited about this new consortium and honored to leverage the expertise of this school with that of our university partners to advance public health capacity.”

Each of the six consortium members has a deep and longstanding commitment to the mission of public health and the sustainable development of its workforce including increasing diverse staff that represents the communities they serve; prioritizing staff retention; maintaining efficient workforce systems and processes; and developing capabilities to implement public health advances.

On the ground with its practice-oriented partners, the consortium’s work will include research to better understand public health workforce needs; large-scale survey data collection and analysis; economic analysis to understand options for resource allocation; and health equity research with a focus on the needs of racial, ethnic minority and rural communities.

“With funding from HRSA and CDC, and the support of our partners, this feels like the first time in a while where we have been able to say that all parts of the public health workforce matter — rigorous, practice-oriented research included,” said JP Leider, project lead and director of the Center for Public Health Systems at SPH, in a statement.

In a blog post on the website of JPHMP Direct, the companion site of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, the leaders of CWORPH noted that although there are several health workforce research centers in the country — for instance, for behavioral health and allied health — there has never been one for public health until now.

“When we heard about this opportunity, we knew that a consortium model was the only way to approach the challenge. This included bringing together other universities and colleges, but we also knew that it needed to be the public health community who would guide us in determining where the needs are,” they wrote. “So, we determined that it would also mean having a partner who could advise us and help set an agenda relevant to the field with practice and equity at the forefront, and for that reason the National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development is our advisory body.”

They also announced a list of technical and dissemination partners:

• Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH)
• Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)
• Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC)
• de Beaumont Foundation (dBF)
• MissionSquare Research Institute
• National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)
• Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB)
• Public Health Training Centers (PHTCs)

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