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Report Shows Need to Invest Funding in Public Health Infrastructure

June 18, 2021

A recent report published by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) outlines the stark need for increased funding to public health infrastructure and the workforce.

As noted in the report, public health programs and services—including in Pennsylvania—have been chronically underfunded at the federal, state, and local levels for decades, leaving millions of Americans vulnerable to the dire impacts of health threats such as flu, disease outbreaks, the opioid crisis, suicide epidemic, and weather emergencies.

The COVID-19 pandemic made the failure to invest in programs combatting these public health challenges—exacerbated by health disparities—glaringly clear.

Through the U.S Department of Health and Human Services’ Hospital Preparedness Program, Hospitals receive one annual source of federal funding intended to assist facilities to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies. However, this critical funding source has been depleted from $515 million to $280 million from fiscal year (FY) 2003 to FY 2021.

Pennsylvania received $15.6 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during FY 2020, ranking 46 in total state funding per capita. Of the CDC COVID-19 pandemic response funding to states, Pennsylvania received 1.5 billion, ranking 46 per capita.

Despite record low funding levels, Pennsylvania hospitals quickly became relied on as the center of the public health response, when existing gaps in public health resources and infrastructure heightened a raging pandemic. From testing to treatment, administering vaccines, and working with community-based organizations to conduct public health outreach to vulnerable populations—Pennsylvania hospitals jumped into action.

That responsibility for so much of the public health response in every community around Pennsylvania demanded sacrifice, including significant financial strain on facilities and immeasurable pressure on hospital staff.

TFAH recommends the following policies to plan for the future of public health:

  1. Increase core funding to strengthen public health infrastructure and workforce
  2. Support and intensify public health preparedness—including in health care
  3. Invest in chronic disease prevention, prevention of substance abuse, and suicide
  4. Address the social determinants of health and advance health equity

The report issued a final call to action: In order to truly prepare for future public health threats, more investment is needed for public health planning, workforce, and infrastructure.

To address this disparity in public health funding and workforce, HAP is calling on the General Assembly to pass the PA Heroes Act, which would allocate $650 million of Pennsylvania’s $7.3 billion share of the federal Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to support grants for the hospital community. These grants would be targeted to promote three significant commonwealth COVID-19 priorities:

  • Restoring the health care workforce
  • Strengthening public health infrastructure
  • Addressing behavioral health capacity

The General Assembly has yet to determine funding allocation for these federal dollars.

Advocates are encouraged to send a letter to lawmakers asking for support of the legislation.

For more information, contact Sarah Lawver, HAP’s director, advocacy activation.