Public Health Corps Launch: 3..2..1..Blast Off!
To begin addressing the capacity shortage within governmental public health, CDC worked with AmeriCorps to create the Public Health Corps (PHC). Members of UMCPH describe the successes and challenges of the Minnesota PHC.
The public health workforce was already experiencing significant challenges leading up to COVID-19, and the pandemic only worsened existing issues, highlighting the need for a stronger infrastructure to meet public health demands. Health department staffing and retention are particularly critical issues in the aftermath of COVID. About 5% of public health workers are planning to retire in the next year and an additional 27% plan to leave in the next for other reasons than retirement, but young professionals have not been integrated into the public health workforce to replace those who are retiring and leaving. Most public health graduates work in healthcare or corporations, with less than a fifth going into governmental public health. To begin addressing the capacity shortage within governmental public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with AmeriCorps to create the Public Health Corps (PHC). Backed by $400 million from the American Rescue Plan, PHC plans to create up to 5,000 AmeriCorps positions with governmental public health agencies across the United States over the next 5 years. The program launched in August 2022 with the goal of recruiting up to 3,000 AmeriCorps members in the first year.
The two primary goals of PHC are:
- “Address public health needs of local communities by providing support in state and local public health settings and advancing more equitable health outcomes for underserved communities.
- Create pathways to good quality public health-related careers through onsite experience and training, with a focus on recruiting AmeriCorps members who reflect the communities in which they will serve.”
A full list of the grantees is available here.
The Center for Public Health Systems at the University of Minnesota is working with the Minnesota grantee to implement and evaluate the program within our state. We are sharing details from our program below as a case study to describe the program’s successes and challenges since the launch and provide recommendations for future host sites and PHC programs across the United States.
Minnesota Public Health Corps
Ampact, ServeMinnesota, and the Center for Public Health Systems are collaborating on a successfully funded statewide PHC in Minnesota (MNPHC). The program employs AmeriCorps members (the term AmeriCorps uses for AmeriCorps-funded employees) to serve as public health project coordinators at governmental public health agencies and community health boards across Minnesota. Members provide services supporting community engagement, data collection, project coordination, and sustained COVID-19 response and recovery. To date, 62 positions have been awarded across 28 sites statewide. Of those, 43 positions have been filled, and MNPHC aims to fill the remainder of open positions by January 2023.
This project is using a participatory evaluation approach, where decision making is shared with program stakeholders. Before placing members, we conducted focus groups and a survey with stakeholders to understand what Minnesota public health agencies need and how MNPHC members could help. This formative evaluation was critical for relationship-building between potential host sites and MNPHC, ensuring member activities directly aligned with site needs.
One challenge has been recruiting local health departments to participate in the program. Though MNPHC seeks to provide much needed relief to health agencies, the agencies have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and previous external forces, creating a challenging juxtaposition where agencies desperately need help but may not have the capacity to bring in and supervise a member. Furthermore, they may not have the ability to take the risk of hosting a member in case the experience does not work out as planned. To overcome this particular challenge, MNPHC has implemented program coaches to assist with supervision and work with both members and agencies to ensure positive experiences. So far, this model appears to be working.
Additionally, as has been the case for many AmeriCorps programs and public health agencies, it has been challenging to recruit members for rural areas. Employee recruitment and retention is a well-known issue for rural areas, one that MNPHC will continue to explore ways to overcome in collaboration with rural partners.
Despite these challenges, we have received numerous positive statements from host sites describing how their members are significantly helping their agency in various capacities. Additionally, several members have indicated having positive experiences as they adjust to their sites and site supervisors. Many have also said they are excited for this year and the experience it will bring them in their public health career.
We have two more start dates for members, late October 2022 and early January 2023, and will also begin adding part-time members. We hope these added start dates and schedule types will provide host sites flexibility needed to bring on additional members. Furthermore, we are evaluating the program’s impacts on each host site’s capacity to provide public health services and assessing whether members’ experiences lead them to pursue a career in public health. We are optimistic that MNPHC is making progress towards its goal of providing members with experience and enthusiasm for working in governmental public health so that public health infrastructure can truly support and provide all Public Health Foundational Services to communities nationwide.
Chelsey Kirkland, PhD (c), MPH, CHW (she/her) is a researcher within the Center for Public Health Systems at University of Minnesota, School of Public. During her time there, she has collaborated on numerous nation-wide, mixed-methods research projects working to support and build-up the public health workforce. Her background is in a variety of public health issues including health equity, health disparities, social determinants of health, community health workers, and physical activity. When not working, she enjoys being outside with her family and two dogs. Her favorite activities include running, water-skiing, and playing violin.