07.27.21

Murray Continues Pushing for Bold Investments and Improvements in Public Health and Preparedness at Hearing on COVID-19 Lessons Learned

Senator Murray: “We have to end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health that led us here.”

 

Senator Murray: “Before this pandemic struck, public health departments across the country were woefully understaffed and underfunded, and our nation was unprepared.”

 

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

 

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led a hearing focused on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and building the nation’s public health infrastructure to protect families against future public health threats. At the hearing, Senator Murray noted that even before the pandemic struck, our public health infrastructure was seriously lacking, and pushed for greater investments to modernize health departments, address inequities, support and expand our public health and health care workforce, and ensure that health care providers and public health departments across the country are well-prepared to handle any public health emergency.

 

“We have to end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health that led us here,” said Senator Murray in her opening remarks. “We need to dramatically rebuild our public health infrastructure—and we need to build it to last. We need to invest in modern technology in our health departments and hospitals. We need to invest in addressing inequities, and making sure our data includes everyone, our vaccines reach everyone, and our health departments are building trust in communities of color—which we know are often hit the hardest when disaster strikes.”

 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, public health departments across the country were woefully understaffed, underfunded, and faced challenges like a lack of modernized data systems, personnel, equipment, and adequate lab capacity. In her opening remarks, Senator Murray stressed that in order to prevent and respond to pandemics like COVID-19, and build back a stronger and fairer public health system that keeps everyone safe and healthy, we must finally end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health funding by passing bold investments in public health and preparedness—including sustained annual investments like the Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act.

 

“Of course, while the value of strong public health infrastructure may be the most important lesson we have to learn from this pandemic, there are many others we should be addressing as well, like the need to address supply chain disruptions, improve our stockpile of critical medical supplies, improve health equity, fight misinformation, prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, and support and expand our health care and public health workforce,” continued Senator Murray.

 

The hearing included testimony from Mr. Les Becker, Deputy Secretary of Innovation at the Washington State Department of Health; Ms. Phyllis Arthur, Vice President of the Infectious Diseases and Diagnostics Policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization; Dr. David Janz, Director of Medical Critical Care Services at the University Medical Center New Orleans; and Ms. Anita Cicero, Deputy Director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

 

“Earlier this year, Patty Hayes, the Director of Public Health for Seattle & King County, reflected on the pandemic, and noted, ‘One of the big things that the entire country realized is that if you allow your public health infrastructure to be dismantled, then when you have an emergency of this sort, it is not ready to handle it.’  

 

“She’s right. I’ve been pushing for greater investments in public health for years, because even before this pandemic, the diminished state of our public health infrastructure was incredibly alarming.

 

“Since 2010 spending for state public health departments has dropped by 16 percent, and spending for local health departments by 18 percent.

 

“In 2019, less than half of states spent even $40 per person on public health, with only a few states spending over $100 per person.

 

“Even though our health care spending was over 11 thousand dollars per person.

 

“Nationwide, local and state health departments have lost nearly a quarter of their work force since 2008.

“In other words, before this pandemic struck, public health departments across the country were woefully understaffed and underfunded, and our nation was unprepared.

 

“How are we supposed to test for diseases like COVID-19 and sequence for new variants without modernized data systems and adequate lab capacity?

 

“How are health departments supposed to do contact tracing, when a single case can have over 70 contacts, but a city like Detroit with 670,000 people —has only 200 workers in its public health department?

 

“How are we supposed to track disparities when we don’t have a consistent, standardized way of reporting the data we do get?

 

“And when federal data often doesn’t accurately identify some communities like Pacific Islanders?

 

“Beyond inequities—how are we supposed to track cases at all when data is coming into health departments by fax, thousands of printed pages at a time?

 

“Last July, in my home state of Washington, we brought in members of the National Guard just to help manually enter data from tests that weren’t reported electronically.

 

“And then, beyond the challenge of getting all that crucial data, how are we supposed to make good use of this data to fight public health threats when only 28 percent of local health departments have an epidemiologist or statistician?

 

“How are our communities supposed to get clear, science-based guidance on public health issues, coordinate vaccination efforts to reach our most distant and most vulnerable communities, or fight a deluge of misinformation about safe, effective vaccines, when only half of all people in this country are served by a comprehensive public health system?

 

“We have to end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health that led us here.

 

“As a public health leader in Kansas put it—‘We don’t say to the fire department, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. There were no fires last year, so we’re going to take 30 percent of your budget away.’

 

“We shouldn’t be doing that to public health either.

 

“We need to dramatically rebuild our public health infrastructure—and we need to build it to last.

 

“We need to invest in modern technology in our health departments and hospitals.

“We need to invest in addressing inequities, and making sure our data includes everyone, our vaccines reach everyone, and our health departments are building trust in communities of color—which we know are often hit the hardest when disaster strikes.

 

“And to do all of this, we also desperately need more people like Patty Hayes.

 

“However—Ms. Hayes retired from the Health Department this May.

 

“And she’s not alone—a survey taken before the pandemic showed nearly half of public health workers were considering retiring in the next five years.

 

“That’s why it’s so critical we take steps to build our public health workforce, including steps to help address the reality that—outside of big cities—more than a fifth of local public health workers earn less than $35,000 a year.

 

“In her comments earlier this year Ms. Hayes went on to say, ‘I’m hoping that the wisdom will prevail to really invest in the core public health infrastructure, so that we’re faster, better coordinated and ready for the next thing.’

 

“I’m hoping for that too—and I’m pushing as hard as I can to make it happen.

“That’s why I reintroduced the Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act—so we can finally end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health funding.

 

“It’s why I’ve been pushing so hard for Congress to invest in public health in our COVID response bills, and it’s why I’ve been pushing for our bipartisan work to reflect lessons learned from this pandemic.

 

“Of course, while the value of strong public health infrastructure may be the most important lesson we have to learn from this pandemic, there are many others we should be addressing as well, like the need to address supply chain disruptions, improve our stockpile of critical medical supplies, improve health equity, fight misinformation, prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, and support and expand our health care and public health workforce.

 

“Additionally, Congress should enact an independent, comprehensive assessment of our nation’s COVID-19 response, to make sure we have a full accounting of this chapter in our history, and we never repeat it.

 

“I know that’s a goal we all share.

“And I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about what we can learn from this pandemic, and working with my colleagues on both side of the aisle to act on those lessons.”

 

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