Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 14, 2022
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is receiving a $45 million federal grant to help “build a stronger public health workforce.”
On its surface, the goal is laudable. Wisconsin, like the rest of the nation, is facing a severe healthcare worker shortage.
But at its core, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s $3.2 billion public health workforce and infrastructure grant program promotes more of the Biden administration’s equity initiatives, infusing divisive, woke politics into public health.
And it promises to be more of the same from DHS under Gov. Tony Evers, who has pushed far left diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives throughout state government.
The CDC funds come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Democrats and signed into law by Biden in the name of pandemic relief. While much of the taxpayer-funded largesse has little to do with actual COVID assistance, the health care workforce crisis was in no small part complicated and made worse by the devastating coronavirus.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association’s 2022 Health Care Workforce Report showed 13 of 17 health care professions saw an increase in vacancies — with seven positions registering double-digit vacancy rates. Registered nurse vacancy rates were the highest they’ve been since 2005, leading WHA to note, “The nursing shortage has arrived.”
“As this report shows, COVID-19 accelerated trends that were already stressing Wisconsin’s health care workforce—most notably, increasing demand for health care services by an aging population combined with disproportionate retirements of health care workers relative to new professionals entering the field, a phenomenon referred to as the ‘Silver Tsunami,’” the 18th annual Workforce Report states.
Healthcare providers’ stringent COVID vaccine policies that forced out healthcare workers who refused to get vaccinated didn’t help matters, but the workforce shortage has been growing for years.
The CDC says its “first-of-its-kind funding provides awards directly to state, local, and territorial health departments to provide the people, services, and systems needed to promote and protect health in U.S. communities.”
Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services gets a $45 million cut of the $3.2 billion fund.
“We applaud the CDC for this investment into our state’s public health infrastructure. This is a win not only for our public health workforce, but for every community that will benefit from enhanced capacity to work collaboratively to build stronger, safer, and healthier communities,” said DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake, who recently announced she is leaving the post early next month.
“These investments into efforts to make sustainable impacts on the size, diversity, and skills of the public health workforce will be designed to ensure that those who work in Wisconsin’s public health system will have the capacity to deliver and support equitable health outcomes for all people across Wisconsin,” the DHS press release states.
The five-year grant is supposed to “strengthen the foundation of public health in the state by supporting a robust assessment of Wisconsin’s multi-layered public health system to evaluate the system-wide structure, including staffing levels, capacity, and workforce well-being.”
But the recruitment and retention efforts will surely be viewed through the department’s equity prism, including DHS’ Office of Health Equity. The Evers administration was hellbent on launching the office, which serves as a kind of critical race theory indoctrination center for public health. After the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee cut funding last year for “equity officer” positions in Evers’ bloated, $91 billion budget proposal, Timberlake defiantly declared the agency was going ahead with opening its Office of Health Equity.
“JFC has opted not to move forward with that but we at DHS, with our partners at the Department of Administration … have moved forward with a reorganization anyway. And so we’re very exited to announce the creation of that new office and that new director,” Timberlake said in May 2021.
Evers’ budget included $145,000 for the health equity office, among some 400 non-fiscal and liberal policy items the Democrat crammed into his hefty biennial budget. As Empower Wisconsin first reported, Evers smashed all previous records for loaded policy measures.
It’s a continuation of Evers’ woke-first governance.
In February 2021, Evers announced the members of his Governor’s Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion, chaired by Dawn Crim, former Secretary-designee of the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. The goal? To develop a “sustainable framework to promote and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion practices across Wisconsin state government.” The liberal initiatives were a priority even as Crim and DSPS were failing to process license applications for healthcare professionals looking to fill critical public health positions.
A taxpayer-funded Chief Equity Officer position was created in Evers’ budget to “identify opportunities to advance equity in government operations.” About that time, reports surfaced that residents in Wisconsin’s assisted living facilities still hadn’t received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine series.
“Our priority is and always has been building a Wisconsin that works for everyone, and in order to do that, we have to have a state government that reflects the people they serve,” Evers said in announcing his equity and inclusion initiatives.
Expect more of the same waste and divisive politics in the federally funded workforce grant program, slowing down and corrupting what is a critical initiative: filling the healthcare worker shortage.