Jan. 17 (UPI) — A study published Wednesday questions whether the number of public health workers will be sufficient as baby boomers start to retire and leave their fields.

The field of local government public health could find itself without a qualified workforce because of budgetary limitations and people retiring, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests. It estimates that one-quarter of the workforce will leave. It also questions if the public health sector will be able to compete with the private sector to attract newly graduated health care students.

“The state and local public health workforce has shrunk by over 50,000 staff since the beginning of the 2008 Great Recession,” Dr. Jonothan leider, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a press release. “Our estimates suggest almost one-quarter of the governmental public health workforce plans to leave or retire in coming years… There are enough highly-educated students to meet this challenge — if public health can compete with the private sector to do so.”

Data indicates that 65,000 of the 197,000 practitioners currently employed at state or local level health departments will leave their employers from 2016 to 2020, largely through retirement. That figure is 50,000 fewer than in 2008. In some states, over 50 percent of the public health workforce will be eligible to retire by 2020. While schools produce about 25,000 graduates of public health programs per year, many will be employed in private health care settings.

“Staff are delaying retirement in unprecedented numbers,” noted Dr. Leider. “However, this can’t last forever, and agencies will see the ‘silver tsunami’ show up if they haven’t already. Our research helps quantify this challenge.”

The study concludes that the demand for public health staff could be met by the new graduates, but it foresees that the ability to recruit and retain the best staff in order to meet demand will be a problem.

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