The Department of Health and Human Services launched a program for IT workforce development with American Rescue Plan Act funds Thursday.
Dubbed the Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program, the $80 million consortium will create a curriculum; recruit and train participants; secure paid internships; and place people at public health agencies, nonprofits, clinics and companies.
The program will encourage minority-serving colleges, universities and other institutions to apply for funding, in keeping with the American Rescue Plan’s goal of addressing health and socioeconomic inequalities highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With this funding, we will be able to train and create new opportunities for thousands of minorities long underrepresented in our public health informatics and technology fields,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in the announcement. “Investing in efforts that create a pipeline of diverse professionals, particularly in high-skilled public health technology fields, will help us better prepare for future public health emergencies.”
The pandemic showed race and ethnicity-specific data was lacking during public health reporting and data analysis due, in part, to limited IT infrastructure and underfunding of staff needed at the state and local levels. Data on infections, hospitalizations, mortality rates, and health and social vulnerabilities must be disaggregated by variables like race, ethnicity, age and gender to paint a complete picture of a disease’s spread.
About 4,000 participants will be trained by the PHIT Workforce Program over four years, with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT awarding up to $75 million for cooperative agreements and spending the remaining $5 million on administration. Awardees must show their training, certificate, degree and placement programs sustain a continuous pipeline of diverse public health IT professionals.
Participants will not only be part of the consortium but a community of practice for sharing resources and lessons learned with each other.
ONC’s notice of funding opportunity supports President Biden‘s executive order on ensuring a sustainable public health workforce. The office will hold an information session on the opportunity on June 23.
“The limited number of public health professionals trained in informatics and technology was one of the key challenges the nation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Micky Tripathi, national coordinator for health IT, said in a statement. “This new funding will help to address that need by supporting the efforts of minority serving institutions and other colleges and universities across the nation to educate and launch individuals into public health careers.”