Inside NHPHA: A Monthly Column Written by NHPHA Leadership: In Defense of Public Health: NHPHA’s Policy Priorities

by Joan Ascheim, NHPHA President

This month the country reached a grim milestone: 200,000 deaths from COVID-19, a number that most scientists and public health professionals agree could have been much less with widespread use of masks, social distancing, and other measures. To put this number into perspective, it would be like losing the entire population of Manchester and Nashua. It is a challenge to wrap your head around—200,000 individuals, 200,000 life stories, 200,000 families affected by the loss. At the same time, dozens of public health officials around the country have resigned or been fired due to the stress and controversies over scientifically based recommended measures that protect the public such as masks and closures and public and political pressure for individual freedoms. Fortunately, we have not seen this in New Hampshire, and we must continue to support our dedicated public health workers.

As noted by the American Public Health Association, “public health workers – physicians, nurses, public health officials, epidemiologists, and many others – are working tirelessly to protect communities and save lives, often navigating difficult political and public expectations to make recommendations that must balance rapidly changing science and wide-ranging health and economic impacts.”

NHPHA thanks our state and local public health workers for their ongoing dedication and arduous work during the pandemic and those who continue to work on prevention initiatives to strive for a healthier population.

While the need for public health and the public’s awareness of it, at least its role in response to a pandemic is likely higher than ever, the Trust for America’s Health recently released a report noting the chronic underfunding of vital public health programs. The report states: “We have not given health departments the funds to modernize and create a prevention focus across sector, diseases and health conditions… The COVID crisis demonstrates this in the starkest of terms.”

NHPHA continues to co-convene the COVID-19 Equity Task Force with its partners from the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Health Equity, and Division of Public Health Services to address some of the immediate equity effects of the pandemic (see this month's update here). In addition, with feedback from our partners, we have developed a policy agenda for the next several years to address health inequities in the state and to support our public health infrastructure. Those priorities include:

Support Public Health Preventive Efforts and Health Access Particularly for Underserved Populations

  • Support community health workers infrastructure funding
  • Advocate for funding and infrastructure for equitable distributions of vaccines

Provide Support for a Strong Local and State Public Health Infrastructure

  • Advocate for funding to support foundational public health services at the state and local level
  • Advocate for support to implement the State Health Improvement Plan and assuring it addresses the need of marginalized and vulnerable populations

Support Policies that Enable Families to Earn a Living Wage and Care for Their Families

  • Support efforts to assure a living/minimum wage
  • Support efforts for job training for skill-based careers particularly for marginalized populations
  • Support a step-down approach to public benefits reductions

Support Policies and Programs that Increase Access to Healthy, Affordable Foods 

  • Advocate to expand use of the WIC program (farmer's market, online purchasing)
  • Support expansion of SNAP, Granite State Market Match and Farm to School initiatives

We hope that you, our members, will join us in support of key policy changes and our public health workers, system, and the people whom they serve.

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