Oregon, Nation Brace for Exit for Public Health Employees

State survey shows many public health employees planning to retire

A large number of public health employees plan to leave their jobs in the next five years both across the country and here in Oregon.

By 2020, 38 percent of public health employees intend to retire or find work in the private sector, according to various studies by the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Oregon opted out of the nationwide survey conducted by the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey because it completed the Oregon Training Needs Assessment in 2013, which was administered to local health departments and the state workforce. Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie said. It was the largest-ever study of the public health workforce and was conducted by the de Beaumont Foundation and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

But Oregon found a similar expected exit of public health employees with 79.2 percent, or 815 of 1,029 saying they plan to retire in the next five years.

“The retirement of many in the public health workforce, including many longtime leaders and managers, is a concern across the field, not just in Oregon,” Modie said. “As a result, the Public Health Division is prioritizing succession planning over the next two years as well as continuing to work with its education partners to help promote public health as a career of choice.”

Oregon’s survey did not ask workers why they planned to leave.

One former public health employee, now a consultant in the private sector, thinks the state’s health department is a challenging environment to work in.

“I think it’s poorly run,” said Kathryn Scott, who left her job as an assessment readiness epidemiology manager for the state immunization program in June. “I think a lot of the issues stemmed from the unwillingness to tackle long standing problems. Frankly, with the budget cuts there’s competition for money and staff.”

Scott thinks it’s important for the state to see how their workers are doing.

In the national survey of those planning to leave, 25 percent said they were retiring and 13 percent wanted to find a job outside of public health.

“As a result of Oregon’s training needs assessment, the following core competencies have been identified as focus areas for the next couple of years: cultural competence, analytic and assessment, leadership, and communication,” Modie said.

Shelby can be reached at [email protected].

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