HHS doles out $73M to 10 universities for health IT workforce initiatives

Stethoscope with doctor's health report clipboard on table. Medical examination and doctor analyzing medical report on laptop screen
Ten institutions will collectively train more than 4,000 individuals over a four-year period through an interdisciplinary approach in public health informatics and technology. (ipopba/GettyImages)

The Biden administration awarded $73 million in cooperative agreements to 10 higher education and minority-serving institutions to train the future public health informatics and technology workforce.

The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS') health IT arm, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), announced the public health informatics and technology workforce development program earlier this year. The program aims to strengthen U.S. public health IT efforts, improve COVID-19 data collection and increase the membership of underrepresented communities within the public health IT workforce. 

The program was funded through the American Rescue Plan.

The 10 awardees were historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic serving institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions and other minority-serving institutions.

"While we work to tackle the pandemic, we won't take our foot off the gas when it comes to preparing for any future public health challenges," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement. "Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we can invest in growing our nation's public health workforce today to better meet the needs of tomorrow. And as we work to expand talent, whether it's in the field of technology or public health informatics, we will do so with an eye towards promoting diversity."

RELATED: Majority of hospitals stumbled on public health reporting before the strain of a global pandemic

The 10 institutions will collectively train more than 4,000 individuals over a four-year period through an interdisciplinary approach in public health informatics and technology. They will develop curricula, recruit and train participants, secure paid internship opportunities and assist in career placement at public health agencies, public health-focused nonprofits or other public health-focused organizations.

The program supports the Biden-Harris administration's efforts to hire public health workers from the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities as well as to ensure a steady stream of diverse talent across the U.S. public health system, according to ONC officials.

"We're excited to hit the ground running to develop a continuous pipeline of diverse public health information technology professionals," said Micky Tripathi, Ph.D., national coordinator for health IT. "It's critical that we quickly identify and educate individuals from diverse backgrounds in public health, informatics and data science to cultivate a robust, sustainable public health workforce."

RELATED: HHS doling out $80M to improve public health IT, COVID-19 data collection

The 10 universities to receive funding are: Bowie State University in Maryland; California State University's Long Beach Research Foundation; Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York; Jackson State University in Mississippi; Norfolk State University in Virginia; Regents of The University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; the University of Massachusetts Lowell; the University of California, Irvine; and the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in the country's public health reporting and data analysis, particularly around race and ethnicity-specific data. Some of these gaps can be attributed to limited technological infrastructure and chronic underfunding of the staff needed to support public health data reporting at the state and local levels.

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. hospitals had a hard time reporting public health information to authorities, according to a recent survey.

Seventy-one percent of hospital leaders surveyed in early 2020 said they experienced at least one challenge when attempting to electronically report to public health agencies during 2019, according to a recent data brief from ONC.

In May, the Biden administration announced plans to invest more than $7 billion from the American Rescue Plan to expand the public health workforce.