Virginia Department of General Services scientist says federal funding needed to improve public health system

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — A scientist with the Virginia Department of General Services is pressing for increased and sustained federal funding to help with data modernization, workforce recruitment, and retention in public health laboratories.

Dr. Marilyn Bibbs Freeman, deputy director for the DGS’s Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS), spoke at a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

Bibbs Freeman stressed the need for the federal funding because the public health laboratory workforce is retiring and millenials are intending to leave them within five years.

Public health also doesn’t offer competitive salaries compared to the private sector.

“The recruitment and retention of a diverse, qualified workforce to alleviate attrition due to retirement or resignation ensures that knowledge not only enters the field but also remains here,” said Bibbs Freeman. “Also, productivity and performance are amplified when the workforce is composed of diverse talent.”

The coronavirus pandemic has brought some issues to light in the public health system.

In Virginia, some health directors are pulling double duty and running two health districts at once. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the pandemic has stretched the health departments thin.

Bibbs Freeman said Wednesday federal dollars would help modernize data to make public health more efficient, sustainable and proactive when dealing with a health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A continued ongoing funding strategy that takes into account yearly inflation for supplies, market comparisons and other direct and indirect cost increases of doing business is needed to maintain all elements of data modernization incrementally over time, instead of more costly, less efficient, instantaneous overhauls as we are doing now, ” said Bibbs Freeman.

To watch Bibbs Freeman’s full statement, click here.