ONC launches new $80M workforce development program

The U.S. Department of Health Human Services announced this week that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT will spearhead development of a new Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program.

Funded to the tune of $80 million drawn from the American Rescue Plan, the PHIT Workforce Program is meant to boost public health through new training in medical informatics data science, according to HHS.

The agency is inviting colleges universities – especially Historically Black Colleges Universities, Tribal Colleges Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions others schools serving minority populations – to apply for funding.

“Representation is important – particularly when we are deploying technology to tackle our most pressing health care challenges,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement. “With this funding, we will be able to train create new opportunities for thousands of minorities long underrepresented in our public health informatics technology fields.”

The goal of the PHIT Workforce Program is to train more than 4,000 individuals over a four-year period through an interdisciplinary approach in public health informatics technology. A consortium will help develop the curriculum, recruit train participants, secure paid internship opportunities, assist in career placement at public health agencies, public health-focused nonprofits, public health-focused private-sector or clinical settings.

Under the PHIT Workforce Program, ONC will award up to $75 million to cooperative-agreement recipients use the remaining $5 million to support the program’s overall administration, officials said. Award recipients will need to ensure their training, certificate, degree placement programs are sustainable to create a continuous pipeline of diverse public health IT professionals.

A major impetus behind this project is to tackle “pervasive health socioeconomic inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic ensure our healthcare system is better equipped for the next public health emergency,” according to HHS.

Beyond the fact that the pandemic disproportionately affected minority underserved communities, the agency notes how the COVID-19 crisis exposed gaps in public health reporting data analysis – particularly with regard to race ethnicity-specific data.

“Some of these gaps can be attributed to limited technological infrastructure chronic underfunding of the staff needed to support public health data reporting at the state local levels,” said HHS officials.

“Federal efforts to center equity in the COVID-19 response future public health responses will be improved by robust data collection reporting around infection, hospitalization, mortality rates, as well as underlying health social vulnerabilities, that is disaggregated by race ethnicity, age, gender, other key variables.”

President’s Biden’s Executive Order on Ensuring a Sustainable Public Health Workforce for COVID-19 Other Biological Threats has provisions calling for new programs to encourage a public health workforce that can equitably perform community-based testing to improve response to future pandemics other biological threats.

“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,” said Becerra.

“The limited number of public health professionals trained in informatics technology was one of the key challenges the nation experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” added National Coordinator for Health IT Micky Tripathi. “This new funding will help to address that need by supporting the efforts of minority serving institutions other colleges universities across the nation to educate launch individuals into public health careers.”

ONC is hosting an information session about the new funding opportunity on June 23 at 2 p.m. ET.

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