5 April 2023
What is a strong economy without a healthy workforce?
With the 2023 legislative session underway, many issues and opportunities continue to emerge. One topic that has drawn bipartisan attention and support is Nevada’s public health infrastructure and the need for resources that will aid in the continued recovery from the residual effects of COVID-19, in addition to being equipped for any future challenges.
There was and still is much to learn from the pandemic as we continue to heal from the ramifications of it in both our communities and our economy. Preparedness is key, but unfortunately, our state was not ready for COVID-19 as was evidenced by our overwhelmed health care system and the state’s Rainy Day Fund being drained to keep our communities afloat.
Systemically, it’s common to train for emergencies like gun violence and natural disasters. However, we also have to train for public health emergencies with the potential to affect not only our state but the entire world.
When it comes to our economy, public health is a critical, but often forgotten component. It is the foundation on which our quality of life and vitality are built. Public health programs protect citizens from disease, injury and disability. They also support growth through job creation. We know that healthier communities create more attractive environments for businesses to operate in. The health sector remains a key industry in Nevada, yet it continues to be underemphasized as our funding per capita continuously ranks at the bottom.
This doesn’t have to be the case.
To have a thriving economy, we must invest in public health education, research and initiatives. This also means the need and demand for public health workers is the greatest it’s ever been. Both schools of public health at UNR and UNLV not only share a mission to protect our communities, but also are committed to building an adaptable and qualified workforce that is ready to address the state’s top issues.
From research labs to hospital systems, our students — a majority of whom stay to live and work in Nevada after graduation — are the ones leading the change in regard to mental health, teen pregnancy, chronic diseases, environmental health, food insecurity and more. They are the ones who will develop and implement cost-effective public health policies that ensure Nevadans have adequate access to health care and insurance, and much-needed services designed to improve their quality of life.
As part of the Western Region Public Health Training Center, UNR’s School of Public Health’s Nevada Public Health Training Center (NPHTC) is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Since its inception in 2014, the NPHTC has played a vital role in training Nevada’s public health workforce. In 2022, UNR was funded for an additional four years to continue running the NPHTC. Over the next grant cycle, UNR will implement a third-round workforce development assessment, facilitate collaborations and expand professional development and workforce trainings.
Additionally, 80 percent of UNR’s public health graduates stay to live and work in Nevada, which serves as a direct reinvestment into the state.
The UNLV School of Public Health recently received $1.5 million from the HRSA within the Department of Health & Human Services to cover student tuition and fees over the next three years. The goal of this HRSA program is to empower individuals at all levels to pursue training and careers in public health, supporting research projects that address social determinants of health and disparities while encouraging students to continue their education through graduate education.
Furthermore, through a $525,000 grant, the school has been enhancing recruitment initiatives so it can keep increasing enrollment across its public health and health care degree programs.
In the spirit of collaboration, both of the state’s R1 universities have been working together unprecedentedly to ensure we are prepared when the next public health crisis happens. Both deans from the two schools of public health have committed approximately $10,000 to support joint grant submissions, publications, community-engaged projects, contracts, professional presentations and training sessions. In order to move Nevada forward, we have to be a team.
While we make the necessary steps to improve health overall, we still need more funding and resources to get us on the right track and to be competitive with other states. Without the proper amount of support for public health needs, our economy will suffer. We will see more burden on medical bills and health care costs. Productivity will drop significantly. The economic cost of illness, disability and death would skyrocket.
A healthy economy is a thriving economy, and we should not settle for less when it comes to the well-being of Nevadans. When we invest in public health, we are investing in the future of Nevada.
Muge Akpinar-Elci is the dean of the UNR School of Public Health, and Shawn Gerstenberger is the dean of the UNLV School of Public Health.
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