New Research Shines a Light on Missouri’s Public Health Response to COVID-19 and Offers a Transformative Path Forward

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI and WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 14, 2021) – Today, Missouri Foundation for Health and the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health released a report on the public health response to COVID-19 in Missouri. The publication details research that is relevant to strengthening local public health agencies’ and the state’s capacities to respond to future public health crises. The report distills its research into eight key recommendations for how to move forward. Read the full report and executive summary here: “Missouri’s Public Health Response to COVID-19: Key Findings and Recommendations for State Action and Investment.”

As of August 2021, COVID-19 has tragically taken the lives of more than 10,000 Missourians and upended the social and economic fabric of all its residents. The pandemic continues to challenge public health in the state, highlighting the importance of a strong public health system at all levels of government. 

In the summer of 2020, MFH contracted the Milken Institute School of Public Health to assess Missouri’s public health preparedness and response capacities to the pandemic and future crises. The organization engaged in a real-time study of the evolving pandemic response, tracking progress beginning in August of 2020. The organization’s case-study approach included 138 interviews with stakeholders from across the region, multiple focus groups, background research, and more.

Through this work the Foundation has generated data-driven, unbiased evidence to help inform a much-needed transformation of the state’s public health system into something that is stronger and more responsive, resilient, and efficient. When Missouri’s public health system is improved, the state will also reduce health inequities that plague both rural and urban areas. This is especially true for children, communities of color, and low-income individuals throughout the region.  

“In the wake of the tragedy of COVID-19, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine our public health system for the 21st century,” said Clay Goddard, Senior Director of Public Health Transformation at MFH. “Investing in public health infrastructure is a cost-effective method to improve health and prevent disease. As we work to strengthen these systems, we will be better positioned to address chronic disease epidemics, rising rates of substance misuse, growing health inequities, and many more of our most pressing health issues.”

The eight key recommendations for strengthening public health infrastructure in the report are as follows: provide financial support and technical assistance for public health accreditation; prioritize equity; build a modernized surveillance system; create regional coordinating bodies; bolster the public health workforce; ensure equitable public health funding across the state; clarify local public health agency governance structure and authorities; and harmonize policy development. 

“Our research has documented some of the challenges faced by Missouri’s state and local public health agencies during the pandemic – not dissimilar to those faced by states across the country. Although Missouri’s public health agencies were committed and dedicated to fighting COVID-19, a history of chronic underfunding left them diminished as they faced a once in a century threat,” Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute School of Public Health and lead author, said. “We hope this report will provide a roadmap for state and local leaders as unprecedented levels of federal funding become available to support the ongoing response to the pandemic.”

This fall, three additional regional reports will be released, detailing how COVID-19 has played out from a public health perspective in different areas of Missouri. This winter, a final summary report will be published, including case-study comparisons to other approaches to modernization in public health.

About The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health

The George Washington Milken Institute School of Public Health advances population health, wellbeing, and social justice locally, nationally, and globally by: Applying public health knowledge to enhance policy, practice, and management; Conducting rigorous, basic, applied, and translational research; and Educating the next generation of public health leaders, policy makers, practitioners, scientists, advocates, and managers.

About Missouri Foundation for Health

Missouri Foundation for Health is building a more equitable future through collaboration, convening, knowledge sharing, and strategic investment. Working in partnership with communities and nonprofits, MFH is transforming systems to eliminate inequities within all aspects of health and addressing the social and economic factors that shape health outcomes.

Learn more at mffh.org.