Brooke Army Medical Center nurses conduct a shift change briefing in a COVID-19 intensive care unit on July 17, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by James Camillocci)

PERSPECTIVE: Prioritize Public Health Officers to Increase Preparedness for Future Threats

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Last year, we were faced with one of the biggest threats to our homeland: the COVID-19 pandemic. And there is the potential for even bigger crises than this. While some may consider this disease to have changed the threat landscape, we would argue that in fact this threat has existed all along – for any point on the spectrum from governments, to businesses, to individuals. Public health is now, and has always been, an underlying and vital component of any crisis, big or small. If we are to find any positive aspects of COVID-19, it is that it has shed new light on the importance of public health – public health has finally entered the much-needed spotlight.

The current state of the world – with climate change, social injustice, widespread mistrust, and reliance on social media rather than experts – means that crises will be exacerbated, and so too will the public health impact of these crises. Leaders now must immediately incorporate public health thinking into all of their activities. COVID-19 has touched every aspect of life – and this is how deep public health thinking must go. In 2020 we experienced firsthand the importance of a healthy workforce, of personal health, of solid health policy, of consistent health messaging. Accomplishing these goals requires intentional thought and work toward public health.

With that in mind, for leaders both in government and business to incorporate public health measures into their future planning and operations, public health experts must be consulted. The idea of a Public Health Officer or advisor is a new and exciting way to realize these ambitions. Public health experts, with experience and knowledge in areas such as infection control, social determinants of health, health initiatives, and policy, are primed for these positions. A Public Health Officer would require a voice at the highest management levels to provide insight and guidance for how to ensure a healthy workforce and population. They can step into many different industries and scenarios and provide the much-needed expertise to help people regain control of their health.

Economic hardships will admittedly present a challenge in the hiring of a new executive. But think about what might happen if you don’t. Ongoing COVID-19 could leave your workforce susceptible to extended time out of work. Without advisors on health and safety measures, returning to in-person work could be drawn out and expensive. Uncoordinated vaccine administration could leave part of the workforce still vulnerable to communicable diseases. Wary individuals could stop frequenting your business if they perceive inadequate health measures. Sedentary lifestyles could leave your company paying for more chronic illnesses through employer-sponsored insurance. These pressing problems, and many more, could be easily managed through Public Health Officers or advisors. They will ensure that your organization, and the people you care about, are prepared for any unexpected event and can remain healthy for whatever may be on the horizon.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected] Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Katie Klatt is a COVID-19 infection-control nurse at Boston EMS. She is currently a Master of Public Health in Health Management student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Katie received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Virginia. She worked as a pediatric intensive care unit nurse in California and Australia before beginning her MPH studies.

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