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Study: Concerning Reports of Harassment of Public Health Workers during COVID

March 22, 2022

Public health departments supporting the nation’s response to COVID-19 reported nearly 1,500 unique incidents of harassment during the pandemic’s early months, according to a report released this month.

The study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health serves as a “wakeup call” about the importance of protecting our public health workforce, said Beth Resnick, the school’s assistant dean for practice and training and senior scientist.

"Taking care of the workforce needs to be a fundamental component of the public health infrastructure that doesn't end when the pandemic does,” she said upon the study’s release last week. 

The study in the American Journal of Public Health evaluates responses from a national survey of local health departments and media reports. Here’s what you need to know:

  • More than half:  In a survey, 57 percent of local health departments reported experiences being targets of harassment  
  • Leaving their roles:  Of 222 public health officials who left their roles from March 2020 through January 2021, 36 percent experienced some form of harassment
  • Quotable:  “Public health officials described experiencing structural and political undermining of their professional duties, marginalization of their expertise, social villainization, and disillusionment. Many affected leaders remain in their positions,” the report said
  • Next steps:  The study team suggests initiatives that reduce the “undermining, ostracizing, and intimidating acts against health officials,” as well as the development of training, support, and other investments to support public health staff

HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospital community join the effort to raise awareness about the concerning trend in violence and harassment against health care workers. This winter, HAP’s digital community, Healthy Me PA, launched the Keep Them Safe Campaign, highlighting the importance of protecting our health care workers from workplace violence and abuse and the ways hospitals are working to protect their staff.

Learn more about the rise in violence against health care workers and HAP’s advocacy online.