Senate Sub. 3 Considers California Can’t Wait Coalition Budget Request for Public Health Infrastructure and Workforce

This week, Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Subcommittees resumed hearings in preparation of the Governor’s May Revise Budget that will be released next week. On Tuesday, the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Subcommittee No. 3 on Health and Human Services (HHS) convened a hearing to review proposals under the purview of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), Department of Public Health (CDPH), Department of State Hospitals (DSH), and Covered California.

Notably, during the hearing, Subcommittee members received an update on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, including vaccination efforts, from state and local public health officials. CDPH Chief Deputy Director Susan Fanelli briefed senators on the latest statewide COVID-19 transmission rates, hospitalizations, and test rates, COVID-19 vaccination allocation and administration activities, and the Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework. Ms. Fanelli additionally discussed the Department’s broader public health prevention and response activities, challenges, and needs to adequately prepare for future public health emergencies and pandemics.

Further, Ms. Fanelli indicated infrastructure and workforce continue to be the most significant challenges for public health and reiterated the importance of sizable investments in staffing, data systems, and public health infrastructure. One-time investments following public health emergencies, as noted by Ms. Fanelli, do not allow state and local health departments to establish and sustain critical infrastructure that is only temporarily stood up during emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

CHEAC Executive Director Michelle Gibbons addressed the Subcommittee, urging the Legislature that California cannot wait until the next public health crisis to invest in local health departments. The California Can’t Wait Coalition, consisting of health departments, public health workers, community public health advocates, and over 100 organizations, is urging the Legislature and Newsom Administration to invest $200 million General Fund ongoing for public health infrastructure and workforce, as well as $3.45 million for an assessment of public health workforce as proposed by AB 240 (Rodriguez). Ms. Gibbons discussed the historic and severe underfunding of public health and its significant impacts on local health department workforce, programs and services, and our broader communities. While local health departments are receiving federal funds for ongoing COVID-19 response, Ms. Gibbons noted that this funding does not support the day-to-day work of local health departments beyond COVID-19, making the case for desperately needed ongoing, sustainable, and flexible funding for local health departments throughout the state.

Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, Stanislaus County Health Officer, represented the Health Officers Association of California (HOAC) and appeared before the Subcommittee to discuss local experiences of responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other public health issues with limited staffing, resources, and infrastructure. Dr. Vaishampayan highlighted the significant demands on local health department staff during the pandemic, including emergency response activities and vaccination efforts, and expressed the dire need for ongoing and flexible funding to support the critical roles of local health departments in California.

Hector Dela Cruz, Chief Environmental Health Specialist with Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and member of SEIU Local 721, also presented to the committee, discussing the far-reaching functions of environmental health in residents’ daily lives. Mr. Dela Cruz provided a firsthand experience of rededicating environmental health staff and resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted the need for additional workforce and resources to adequately prepare, protect, and promote the health of the community.

Following the panel presentations, Subcommittee No. 3 members asked extensive questions of witnesses exclusive to public health infrastructure and workforce. Subcommittee Chair Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman inquired about the role of communications in increasing COVID-19 vaccine administration, local health equity efforts, and needed workforce resources for local health departments.

Senator Richard Pan, during his comments, acknowledged the value and work of front-line public health officials and workers throughout the pandemic and condemned recent instances of harassment and threats against public health professionals statewide. Dr. Pan inquired about the limitations of one-time funding for public health departments, public health emergencies requiring surge staffing and staff redirections, state public health informational technology capacity and needs, mutual aid arrangements for public health, and public health laboratories in the state, among other topics.

All items during Tuesday’s hearing were held open for later action following the release of the Governor’s May Revise Budget next week. The agenda from Tuesday’s hearing is available here. A video recording of the public health component of Tuesday’s hearing is available here, beginning at 2:09:13.