Study: Many states fall short on emergency preparedness
MelissaJenco, News Content Editor
Many states are not well-prepared to respond to public health emergencies, according
to a new report.
Nonprofit group Trust for America’s Health found inconsistent approaches and significant
reductions in federal funding for preparedness.
“We need to pay attention to strengthening our public health preparedness efforts,”
said Trust for America’s Health President and CEO John Auerbach, M.B.A. “Last year
the focus was on Zika; this year the focus is on weather-related emergencies. There’s
no predicting what the next emergency will be that public health departments have
to respond to.”
The group scored states’ health emergency preparedness using 10 indicators, including
funding, antibiotic stewardship, flu vaccination rates and biosafety training. It
noted scores are not an indicator of how specific health departments are performing.
The findings are detailed in the report Ready or Not? Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, which is available at http://healthyamericans.org/reports/readyornot2017/.
Twenty-five states met five or fewer of the 10 indicators. Massachusetts and Rhode
Island topped the list with nine, while Alaska was at the bottom with two.
One of the major stumbling blocks is federal funding for preparedness, which has been
cut by more than half since 2002, according to the report. Nineteen states and Washington,
D.C., maintained or increased their public health budgets in the 2016-’17 fiscal year
compared to the previous year.
“Cuts and inconsistent funding can often threaten the ability to consistently maintain
some very core types of protections,” Auerbach said.
Another key metric was flu vaccination rates. At least half of the eligible population
was vaccinated during the 2016-’17 flu season, and no state was above 56%, according
to the report.
AAP CEO/Executive Vice President Karen Remley, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., FAAP, a member
of the Trust for America’s Health Board of Directors, emphasized that vaccines save
“Engaging in ongoing education about the value and safety of vaccines now will … help
better support our communities when rapid vaccination campaigns may be necessary in
the event of a new major outbreak or a bioterrorism threat,” she said.
The study also found
30 states and Washington, D.C., have accredited health departments,
20 states and Washington, D.C., have 70% or more hospitals meeting core elements of
antibiotic stewardship programs,
47 states and Washington, D.C., have laboratories with biosafety professionals, and
14 states are members of the United States Climate Alliance to reduce greenhouse gas.
The group made several recommendations to improve preparedness, including supporting
a supplementary public health emergency fund, improving vaccination rates, mitigating
climate threats, expanding efforts to stop antibiotic resistance and modernizing infrastructure
to support science and technology.
“We must support a culture of resilience, so all communities are better prepared to
cope with and recover from emergencies, particularly focusing on those who are most
vulnerable,” Auerbach said.
Those who are vulnerable include children, according to Dr. Remley, who called for
preparedness efforts tailored to children’s unique needs. Those efforts include making
sure enough child-appropriate medical equipment, immunizations and medications are
available in an emergency. In addition, she said every family and school district
should have a preparedness plan that is regularly practiced and updated.
“If a community is prepared to meet the needs of a child during a disaster, that community
will be more resilient,” she said. “If they are not prepared to meet the needs of
children during that disaster, then we as a nation cannot say we are prepared because
they are our future.”