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The Status of Public Health in the United States

It feels like a nation in decline.

The New York Times has a great article today on the status of public health and the assault that has been made on an institution that is designed to keep individuals and the community safe.

I’ll provide you with two quotes from the article. The first one illustrates the pressures that public health staff have been under during the pandemic, all while not being appreciated for what they are trying to accomplish. In essence, in some areas of our nation public health authority and capabilities have been hollowed out — even more so by the pandemic.

“‘The places where it is most needed to put in more stringent measures, it’s the least possible to do it,’ Dr. Berry said. ‘Either because you’re afraid you’re going to get fired, or you’re afraid you’re going to get killed. Or both.’

“State and local public health departments across the country have endured not only the public’s fury, but widespread staff defections, burnout, firings, unpredictable funding and a significant erosion in their authority to impose the health orders that were critical to America’s early response to the pandemic.

“While the coronavirus has killed more than 700,000 in the United States in nearly two years, a more invisible casualty has been the nation’s public health system. Already underfunded and neglected even before the pandemic, public health has been further undermined in ways that could resound for decades to come. A New York Times review of hundreds of health departments in all 50 states indicates that local public health across the country is less equipped to confront a pandemic now than it was at the beginning of 2020.”

Then this one below rung my bell in my own experience. One time, I was the director of security for an organization and I was asked once by a leader in the organization, “Eric, why are you always bringing up security?” That was because the function was not valued, of course. My reply was, “If I don’t, who will? Isn’t that my job?”

“The Wilson County commissioners, emboldened with new powers over much of what she does, have discussed replacing Dr. McKenney, saying she focused too much on health and not enough on businesses, she said. The public grew so hostile toward her that she at one point had her elementary-age children sit away from the windows when they did their homework.”

These county commissioners just need to eliminate the function of public health. They will save money and not be annoyed any more by public health. A quote that I’ve used in the past is, “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It only annoys the pig and frustrates you.”

Lastly, there has been barrels of ink spent on writing about the Russian and other international interference in our elections. Another aspect of foreign activity on social media is to destroy trust in government in general, and public health in particular. If you can weaken the health of a nation, it becomes less capable of responding to your aggression. Yes, they are playing the long game while we are at the concession stand asking for extra cheese on our fries. Individual freedom to be stupid is a wonderful thing!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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