Covid NJ: Closing The Public Health Gaps


While the role of public health departments is invisible to most people, they suddenly stepped into the spotlight during the pandemic. Contact tracing, COVID testing and vaccination drives created unprecedented demands they were hard-pressed to meet.

New Jersey’s public health workforce is half the size, per capita, of that in such states as Maryland, Connecticut and Massachusetts, the Rutgers researchers found. And very few municipalities have a local health department dedicated solely to the needs of their own residents. Most towns contract out for services from a county health department, regional health commission or group of other municipalities.

“A public health institute could formulate and address broad policy questions with wide-ranging implications for our state’s residents and our state’s public health,” said Judy Persichilli, the state health commissioner. “A public health institute would help accelerate collaboration across sectors, advance equity, and provide greater focus on addressing the social determinants of health.”

Now two New Jersey-based foundations have proposed a public health institute for the state — and have offered the seed money to get it started.

The proposal, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Nicholson Foundation, is one result of a months-long assessment of the public health system by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. It found that New Jersey’s local public health departments are far more dependent on local property tax revenue than their counterparts elsewhere and have much more to do.

The proposal — “Seizing the Moment: How a Public Health Institute Would Advance Health Equity in New Jersey” — envisions the non-profit institute serving as a data hub and training site, while bringing together a variety of community leaders and professionals to focus on eliminating health inequalities in New Jersey. It could recommend and comment on state policies and also secure grant funding.

“Establishing a public health institute would be a key part of a reimagined public health system for New Jersey,” the report said. Released Thursday, it was prepared by the Nicholson Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with the National Network of Public Health Institutes and included input from dozens of state policymakers and community leaders.

“In the wake of a deadly pandemic for which the state was unprepared, and amid intolerable barriers to good health along racial, ethnic, and other lines,” it said, “we urge all who envision a state with better health and greater equity for all residents to help seize this moment and make the longtime goal of a state public health institute a reality.”

The RWJ Foundation will provide a grant of $1 million to the chosen organization for two years to develop and launch the institute. .

Sleep Health Awareness Month 2022
Brick: Return of "Sports Saturdays" Youth Fitness Program