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AFSCME backs bill to strengthen our country’s public health nursing workforce

AFSCME Maryland member Wendy Smith, a Baltimore community health nurse, speaks in support of the Public Health Nursing Act.
AFSCME backs bill to strengthen our country’s public health nursing workforce
By AFSCME Staff ·
AFSCME backs bill to strengthen our country’s public health nursing workforce
Caption for the other pic: Wendy Smith (left) and Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.).

Public health nurses played a critical role in our country’s response to COVID-19, and they’ve been helping fight deadly diseases, expand health care equity and increase life expectancy throughout our history.

That’s why AFSCME supports federal legislation to strengthen our nation’s public health nursing workforce. The twin House and the Senate proposals would help public health departments across our country recruit, hire, train and pay licensed registered nurses.

Called the Public Health Nursing Act, the bills would go a long way towards addressing a national health care staffing shortage that worsened during the pandemic as many health care workers left their jobs.

The bills would authorize a grant program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help state, local and tribal public health departments bolster and maintain strong nursing workforces. The CDC would receive $5 billion annually over 10 years for these grants.

“We need more nurses to do the work I do,” said Wendy Smith, a community health nurse for the Baltimore City Health Department and president of AFSCME Local 558 (Maryland Council 3). “My number one responsibility is to ensure that I am providing preventative health information to underserved communities and ensuring that families are healthy and thriving.”

Like many public health workers across the country, Smith is having to do more with less.

“Public health nurses are experiencing what other public service workers across the country are experiencing: The many public service jobs that were lost during the pandemic led to vacancies that remain unfilled,” she said at a news conference Wednesday.

“These are the types of policies that we desperately need to support community health needs,” she added, referring to the bills.

Smith spoke during a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday to introduce the House version of the legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.). Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Senate version in the summer.

AFSCME launched Staff the Front Lines this year, an initiative to help state, county and local governments recruit professionals to work in public service. The latest jobs report, released last week, shows that public service job numbers are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels.

Yet, our union’s goal is not just to help restore public services back to pre-pandemic levels, but to bring them up to where they would be if public service employment had kept pace with population growth. That’s why proposals like the Public Health Nursing Act are so important.

The bill “is an important step to rebuild the nurse public health infrastructure,” Smith said. “When we invest in nurses, we invest in the health, safety and well-being of our communities.”

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