Strengthening and Modernizing the Public Health System

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the pre-existing weaknesses of the U.S. public health system including areas such as communication, organization, and entrenched health disparities that continue to drive massive health inequities in various communities. To strengthen routine public health practice and better prepare for future emergencies, it is important to clarify and strengthen operational roles of the federal government, address funding challenges, optimize data capabilities, and restore public trust. Partnering with states and localities will be pivotal in addressing these issues as well. The goals of this briefing were to: 1) discuss what a successful and effective public health system looks like; 2) illustrate how the U.S. can better meet every day public health challenges; and 3) explore how an efficient and effective public health system can more effectively anticipate and respond to public health emergencies.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed long-standing weaknesses in our public health system that hinder our ability to respond in emergency situations, prepare for future crises, and conduct day-to-day public health functions.
  2. Stable, de-siloed funding is necessary to implement a robust public health system, both in times of crisis and when crisis subsides.
  3. Increased workforce diversity, training, and retention are critical to creating an effective and sustainable infrastructure.
  4. The current data infrastructure is antiquated, and lacks the capacity needed to address public needs and inequities. Data modernization is instrumental in integrating systems of care and rebuilding trust in public health.
  5. Cross-sector, community-based partnerships are necessary to bridge the gap between communities and the broader public health system.
  6. Collective action is required to sustain disease prevention measures and eradicate the barriers that perpetuate inequities.


  • Andrew Bazemore, M.D., MPH, Senior Vice President of Research and Policy, American Board of Family Medicine
  • Joneigh Khaldun, M.D., MPH, FACEP, Vice President and Chief Health Equity Officer, CVS Health
  • Howard Koh, M.D., MPH, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Erika Martin, Ph.D., MPH, Professor of Public Administration & Policy, University at Albany, SUNY
  • Denise Smith, MBA, CHW, P.N., Executive Director, National Association of Community Health Workers
  • Rachel Nuzum, MPH, Vice President, Federal and State Health Policy, Commonwealth Fund (moderator)