DPH spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said on Wednesday the funding for DPH will be used to support the procurement of a centralized electronic medical records system, which would provide up-to-date, accurate patient information in seconds. Some of the funding will also be used to pay for critical staff positions at DPH and in the districts, such as nurses and epidemiologists, though many of the details were still being worked out.
The $3.2 billion includes $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act for jurisdictions to recruit, retain, and train their workforce, including critical frontline public health workers such as epidemiologists, contact tracers, laboratory scientists, community health workers, and data analysts.
The funding also includes $140 million from a new appropriation for jurisdictions to strengthen and revitalize their public health infrastructure.
According to the CDC, the funding is intended to improve public health worker recruitment and training, strengthen public health systems and modernize data systems.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has documented the state’s failing public health data infrastructure earlier this year. In January, the AJC reported that independent public health experts said Georgia’s failure to invest in DPH and its broader health care delivery and surveillance network had hampered response to the pandemic.
During the worst of the delta and omicron waves in 2021 and early this year, a torrent of testing data crippled the aging digital infrastructure behind DPH’s online COVID-19 dashboard. Public health officials blamed the problems on their aging technology systems.
“Many of our public health systems, and most of our public health IT systems, are legacy systems that were never, ever designed to handle millions and millions of data points,” Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s commissioner of public health, said in January when the state was unable to publish new COVID data for several days. “As a result, these systems are failing when responding to the COVID pandemic, most specifically during surges.”
In 2021, the state Legislature approved $11.1 million for a new vaccination data management system that is now online and also budgeted $16 million for what DPH called its “Surveillance Program of the Future.”
“State, local, and territorial health departments are the heart of the U.S. public health system, and the COVID-19 pandemic severely stressed these agencies, which were already weakened by neglect and underinvestment,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “This grant gives these agencies critical funding and flexibility to build and reinforce the nation’s public health workforce and infrastructure, and protect the populations they serve.”
AJC database specialist Stephanie Lamm contributed to this article.