Johns Hopkins Researchers Publish Study on Harassment of Public Health Officials

A study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health was released this week, identifying 1,499 unique reports of harassment across local health departments in the U.S. during the first 11 months of the pandemic from March 2020 to January 2021. The study additionally found that more than half of surveyed local health departments (57 percent) had been targets of harassment.

Moreover, the study found that across state and local health departments, 222 public health officials departed their positions during this time period, with more than one-third of those departures (36 percent) involving officials who had experienced some form of harassment. According to researchers, the study provides scope and context to departures of public health officials during the first phase of the pandemic, underscoring the importance of prioritizing worker safety and wellbeing in health departments and public health systems, especially in times of crisis.

Researchers utilized data from a survey of local public health departments conducted by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), as well as media reports and other accessible information about the departure of public health officials nationwide. Five common themes of health officials’ experiences during the pandemic emerged: a sense of being underappreciated, undersupported, villainized, caught up in politics, and disillusioned.

Authors of the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, suggest that training public health officials on how to respond to political and societal conflict, improving professional support systems, providing employee support, making investments in long-term public health staffing and infrastructure, and establishing sound reporting systems for harassment incidents are key to reducing the threats against public health officials and ensuring support for officials when incidents do occur.

Additional information on the study is available here.