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‘SYSTEM IS IN CRISIS’: Advocates say public health in New York buckling under weight of coronavirus pandemic

The healthcare system is in crisis.

That was the message from stakeholders who convened as part of a state effort to understand what shape the public and private health systems are in nearly two years after the coronavirus pandemic began.

Sarah Ravenhall, Executive Director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials submitted testimony at the hearing convened by the Assembly Labor, Health, and Higher Educations Committees regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare.

“The public health system in New York State is in crisis,” she said. “Numerous elements have intersected to weaken our public health response infrastructure to a point of unprecedented fragility: ten consecutive years of disinvestment by the state (totaling more than $150 million in cuts); an ongoing loss of public health workers; a demoralized public health system diminished by inadequately supported workload demands; the ongoing response to the covid pandemic; and the specter of an anticipated wave of public health staff retirements that will further diminish our public health response and prevention capabilities.”

Ravenhall called it an inflection point in history.

“Only sound policy and resource decisions will steer us back to a path that will ensure our public health system is prepared for even greater challenges that we know will come,” she continued. ““For the first time in decades we fully comprehend the value and the needs of our public health system, and at the same time the state possesses the financial means and has the public support to effectively address these needs. These factors align to beg a simple question: If not now, then when? The answer is clear. It must be now.”

According to data from the New York State Department of Health, the number of full time LHD staff working on core services declined by 7% between 2015 and 2020. During this same period, the population of the state increased by 3%.

Ravenhall said that 90% of New York’s LHD’s do not have enough staff to adequately provide basic foundational public health services to their communities. In total, she said, over 1,000 additional full time staff are needed to provide an adequate infrastructure and a minimum package of public health services.