LISTEN: A grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is awarding states over $4 billion in funding over five years. GPB's Sofi Gratas reports.

public health worker

Health workers work during a COVID-19 vaccination event in Cochran, Ga., January 25, 2021. The pandemic strained an already stressed public health system, one that $100 million in federal grants aims to repair and strengthen.

Credit: Grant Blankenship / GPB News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is awarding states over $4 billion in funding to support public health nationwide. The Public Health Infrastructure, Workforce and Data Systems grant will last five years, with $3.2 billion given to state public health districts in the first year. 

Georgia’s Department of Public Health will receive close to $100 million dollars over a five-year period from the CDC grant. For its first year, the state DPH has $83 million to spend with just over $16 million left over for the following four years. The grant also includes more than $10 million dollars in separate funding for Fulton County.

DPH spokesperson Nancy Nydam said some of those funds will be used to purchase an electronic medical records system for the entire state public health department, to “improve the availability and use of data throughout the state.” Several reports on the current data management system have found it to be outdated, sometimes providing inaccurate or misleading information. 

The remaining funds haven’t been allocated to local public health districts yet, Nydam said. The grant encourages, but does not require, that states allocate at least 40% of grant money to local public health departments. 

Georgia has 18 public health districts serving its 159 counties, each with a district office.

Brian Castrucci is a former public health worker and advocate as president of the de Beaumont Foundation, which supports public health policy. 

He said to get the most out of this historic funding, Georgia should dole it out equally. 

Right now, it is critical to rebuild the public health system in rural America,” Castrucci said. “That's where those district health directors have been so critical and so vital, because they know the needs of their community.” 

Many public health departments have been left unprepared for the next public health crisis, following the COVID-19 pandemic, both because of a strained workforce and lack of community support. 

In fiscal year 2021, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported an employee turnover rate of 16.8%. 

In a 2021 nationwide survey that did not include Georgia, half of respondents cited a need for more workers in order to continue responding to COVID-19. Regarding mental health, over half of respondents reported at least one symptom of PTSD related to the response to the pandemic. 

“We were surging for COVID on a cracked foundation," Castrucci said. "That's what made it so difficult. This is our opportunity to fortify this workforce and in doing so, really protect the safety, security and economic prosperity of the nation."