Senator Murray Pushes for Major Federal Investment in Public Health Infrastructure with Seattle Public Health Leaders

ICYMI: Senator Murray Re-Introduces Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act As New Report Looks At Gaps In Preparedness – MORE HERE

Seattle Times: Washington state health care system faces ‘enormous stress’ as COVID hospitalizations continue to rise – MORE HERE

Senator Murray: There is a saying in health care, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This last year and a half should be a reminder for all of us that this absolutely the case for public health as well.”

***Photo and video from today’s event available for widespread distribution HERE***

(Seattle, WA ) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chair of  the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined King County’s interim Public Health Director Dennis Worsham, and Drs. Helen Chu, Santiago Neme, and Shireesha Dhanireddy at University of Washington (UW) Medical Center-Montlake for a press conference on the current state of COVID-19 in Washington state and the importance of making substantial investments in public health in the Senate budget reconciliation package.

During her remarks at the medical center, Senator Murray emphasized the critical need for bold investments in public health infrastructure to safeguard Washington state communities against current and future public health emergencies.

“This pandemic is once again pushing our communities to the brink. Our health care system is facing enormous stress as COVID cases continue to rise and the more dangerous Delta variant is filling up hospitals. And misinformation continues to undermine the vaccination efforts we know are critical to ending this crisis,” Senator Murray said. “But we also have to do more than end this pandemic, we have to learn from it, and we have to make sure we are better prepared for the next public health emergency.”

Senator Murray also highlighted her current work on a bipartisan legislative package that will help address gaps in data modernization and reporting, support laboratory capacity, and include workforce provisions to bolster the public health workforce.

“There is a saying in health care, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This last year and a half should be a reminder for all of us that this absolutely the case for public health as well,” Senator Murray continued. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure we take that lesson to heart, and finally end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health funding.”

“Short term funding is not the way to create public health infrastructure, only with long-term, stable, and predictable funding can we rebuild our health department to meet the challenges in this very complex world where a new virus is only a plane ride away. Our public health infrastructure and funding has been eroding for many years. But better funding means we won’t have to abandon our regular work in the event of a crisis: like HIV prevention, childhood immunizations, the safety of our food and water supplies – all of these are critical services that we provide and must continue to provide even during a pandemic. That’s why I want to thank Senator Murray for her hard work to bring stable, long-term, adequate funding to our public health system,” said Dennis Worsham,  King County’s interim Public Health Director.

“I’d like to thank Senator Murray for her work through this entire crisis and for her support of public health measures to help with epidemics and pandemics in the past and in the future. Washington state has really been at the forefront of the public health response to this pandemic, so an increase in funding proposed by Senator Murray for public health will be so important toward supporting our local partnerships and to enable a continued successful response here in Washington state,” said Helen Chu, MD, MPH, a UW Medicine physician, UW assistant professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an adjunct assistant professor of Epidemiology.

“I think it is vital and critical to continue to invest in public health infrastructure so that we can continue to do important work. COVID has highlighted the longstanding disparities around health care access and the ability for folks to get accurate information. We all know that COVID has disproportionately affected certain communities, including the African American community as well as the Latino community. Here in Seattle we’ve seen 30% of folks hospitalized are Latino while only 11% of the population is Latino. So it’s really important that we get health care and information to them,” said Santiago Neme, MD, MPH, UW School of Medicine clinical associate professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases and medical director at UW Medical Center-Northwest.

“We have learned a lot from this pandemic. We have learned about what we can do with collaboration and strong partnerships, but we have also learned about a lot of opportunities where we need to grow and improve our public health infrastructure. And not only to face pandemics like the global COVID-19 pandemic, but also the many other kind of pandemics that we experience in this country within our communities. Public health really means the health of our community, and we know there are certain communities that are not as healthy because they don’t have access to the same sort of care that others do,” said Shireesha Dhanireddy, MD, medical director of Harborview Medical Center’s Infectious Diseases Clinic and assistant medical director of the Madison Clinic.

As a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Murray played a pivotal role in negotiating and advancing investments for public health in the budget resolution. As Chair of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Murray is leading the Democratic Caucus in shepherding through key priorities, which includes building on the largest expansion of health care since the Affordable Care Act.

Earlier this year, she led 19 of her Democratic Senate colleagues in re-introducing the Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act (PHISLA), legislation that would establish a core public health infrastructure program to strengthen the country’s public health system—including the nation’s ability to respond to the COVID–19 pandemic—through grants to State, territorial, local, and Tribal health departments and increased investments at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The bill also supports development and implementation of national public health accreditation. The funding for the program would ramp up over five years to $4.5 billion annually and then remain at that level, and the program would be aimed at specifically addressing eight core capabilities:

  1. Public health assessment
  2. Preparedness and response
  3. Policy development and support
  4. Communications
  5. Community partnership development
  6. Organizational competencies
  7. Accountability
  8. Equity

A one pager on the Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act can be found HERE.