Lack of Public Health Workers Puts All Pennsylvanians at Risk

January 8, 2004
by Kristine Gebbie
Philadelphia Inquirer

Have you seen much public health lately? I don't mean public payment for health care for the poor, but classic public health: actions taken on behalf of the community to prevent epidemics, protect against environmental hazards, prevent injury, promote healthy behavior, respond to emergencies, and ensure the quality and availability of care. A public-health nurse at the school to help parents and children manage asthma? An outreach program for young mothers to encourage healthy pregnancy and infant development? A bicycle-safety campaign for school-age children? Local emergency preparedness for an infectious-disease agent that takes into account language spoken, transportation routes, high-risk businesses? Frequent inspection of day-care centers, camps and related facilities? Chances are that in Pennsylvania you have seen far less of this important resource than you should. With about 37 workers for every 100,000 residents, Pennsylvania has the lowest public-health staffing per capita of any of the 50 states. It has less than one-fourth the national average of 158 workers per 100,000, and is far below such neighboring states as Maryland (304/100,000), West Virginia (244/100,000) and Delaware (237/100,000).

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