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Public health worker shortage affecting Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — There is a major void of skilled public health care workers. A survey by says nearly half of state and local health care workers left their position between 2017 and 2021. 74% of workers under the age of 35 left the public health sector during that same time period.

“Unfortunately, the jobs are not high paying. Sometimes they require a public health degree, sometimes they don’t, and we are just running into an issue of trying to recruit people into those jobs,” said Shandy Dearth, Director of the Center for Public Health Practice.

She adds that public health workers are finding higher paying jobs in the private sector.

Health departments are often given an infusion of federal dollars after a public health crisis such as COVID-19, but those dollars eventually dry up. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is awarding grants to help local health departments build up infrastructure, but that only benefits larger departments.

“Our other health departments are missing out on that funding. The state does have a plan to try and help some of the local health departments,” said Dearth.

For several years, Indiana has ranked far below other states in per-capita funding for public health. Public health workers are the ones who inspect grocery stores and restaurants. They also test air and water quality after an environmental disaster.

“Summer is coming up soon. We have those back to school clinics happening with local health departments to make sure the kids are fully vaccinated, measles mumps, and rubella. Not just COVID. Health departments do lots of things outside COVID,” said Dearth.

Dearth is hoping the legislature will pass Senate Bill 4, which, among other things, allows local health departments to enter into contracts or approve grants for core health services.

She also says student loan forgiveness for health workers entering the workforce may help them stay in the profession longer.