Part of the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund is intended to send a major lifeline to public health by bolstering its beleaguered workforce. The Washington Post recently reported on the impact the fund is having at the local level and why, amid ongoing budget cuts, this critical investment is desperately needed.

It’s a story far too familiar for those at the state and local level who have been hamstrung, in some capacity, by the workforce shortages. Since 2008, a total of 52,200 jobs have been lost, an estimated 20 percent of the workforce.

And as public health infrastructure is shrinking, health problems grow. To illustrate this national trend, the article takes an in-depth look at how the money included in the fund is helping a public health department in Worchester, Mass., an area that has been hit hard by budget cuts.

Karyn Johnson is a 38-year-old woman with a thick Massachusetts accent, a cramped office and a big job. In a city of 31,265 smokers, it’s up to her to get them to quit.

Johnson works for the Worcester Department of Public Health, a working-class city one hour west of Boston. Her task is daunting: With a population of 181,000, its smoking rate is 47 percent higher than the rest of the state.

And yet through her efforts, the city’s teen smoking rate dropped year after year. Then so did her budget. In 1998, the department had about $350,000 to spend on tobacco cessation efforts. Today, Johnson has $135,000.

According to a recent APHA issue brief, between fiscal years 2010 and 2011, nearly $480 million included in the fund has gone toward public health infrastructure and workforce development needs such as public health training centers; and nearly $165 million has been spent on research and tracking activities such as environmental public health tracking.

Data gathering for the Washington Post article was made possible in part by National Association of County and City Health Officials and Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Read more about the public health workforce.