Government Spending Millions of Dollars on Public Health Training Centers

By Susan Jones | September 14, 2010 | 11:00 AM EDT

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is interviewed outside the White House on March 22, 2010. (AP Photo)

( - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday announced the award of $16.8 million to support 27 Public Health Training Centers at accredited schools of public health across the country. 

Most of the funding – $15.4 million – will flow from the Prevention and Public Health Fund established by the Democrats’ recently passed health care law.

The Public Health Training Center (PHTC) Program is intended to improve the public health system by “enhancing skills of the current and future public health workforce,” HHS said in a news release.

According to a training video produced by the Association of Schools of Public Health, “The public health workforce performs the vital job of keeping the population healthy. It makes sure that our food, drinking water, and swimming pools are safe. It tracks outbreaks. And it organizes community-based programs that aim to make it easier for people to make healthy choices about issues like diet, exercise, and smoking.”

The public health workforce includes nurses, laboratory workers, health educators, epidemiologists, health commissioners, “managers in community-based organizations” and public health policy leaders, the video says.

HHS says the current public health workforce is not big enough to meet the health needs of the U.S. population.

“Today’s awards represent a dramatic increase in support for Public Health Training Centers,” Sebelius said in a news release announcing the funding. “Investing in prevention and public health is the foundation for improving the health and well-being of all Americans.”

According to HHS, organizations (mostly universities) receiving the money will use it to:

-- plan, develop, operate and evaluate projects that support goals established by the Secretary in preventive medicine, health promotion and disease prevention;

--  improve access to and quality of health services in medically underserved communities.

Currently, 45 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S.-associated Pacific Islands are covered by Public Health Training Center activity. The centers offer both in-person and distance-based training.

“Whether facing public health emergencies such as natural disasters, or chronic conditions like obesity, a well-trained public health workforce is critical to ensuring the nation’s health and welfare,” said Mary K. Wakefield, the administrator of HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the Public Health Training Center Program.

The PHTC program was established by the Public Health Service Act, as amended by in November 1998.