UPDATE: Georgia DPH says final amount in new CDC funding is just under $100 million

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Funds will be used for a new electronic records system and staff positions at the state Department of Public Health

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a new final award amount for the Georgia Department of Public Health along with plans for spending the money.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is awarding $3.2 billion to help local and state jurisdictions across the country strengthen their public health workforce and infrastructure.

Georgia’s Department of Public Health is set to receive $99.8 million over five years, according to the state agency, which received notification of the final awarded amount Wednesday. The funding includes $83.68 million awarded in year one, with the remaining $16.12 million awarded over five years, according to DPH. This is about $5 million less than the CDC had originally announced on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Fulton County Board of Health is also getting $10.5 million over 5 years, according to the CDC.

This first-of-its-kind funding provides awards directly to the state, local, and territorial health departments “to provide the people, services, and systems needed to promote and protect health in U.S. communities,” the CDC said in a press release. The CDC said, “everyone in the United States lives in a jurisdiction that will receive funding under this new grant.”

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.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

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.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

“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.