Report shows Montana scores poorly on health emergency preparedness

2012-12-19T08:00:00Z 2012-12-19T23:53:22Z Report shows Montana scores poorly on health emergency preparednessBy CINDY UKEN cuken@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Montana has persistent gaps in its ability to respond to health emergencies, making it one of the poorest-performing states in the nation, according to a national report released Wednesday.

In the report, the 10th annual "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism," Montana and Kansas scored the lowest, three out of 10 on key indicators of public health preparedness. Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin scored highest, eight out of 10.

Thirty-five states and Washington, D.C., scored a six or lower.

States were scored on 10 indicators, including response readiness, the state’s commitment to funding public health programs, infectious-disease control, emergency management and vaccinating against whooping cough.

The report was prepared by the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to disease prevention, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted to improving American's health care.

The Trust for America's Health issues the report to provide an independent analysis of public health preparedness. The reports have found that while there has been significant progress toward improving public health preparedness over the past 10 years, particularly in core capabilities, gaps persist in the country’s ability to respond to health emergencies, ranging from bioterrorist threats to serious disease outbreaks to extreme weather events.

Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said significant progress has been made toward improving public health preparedness across the nation and that the same can also be said of Montana. The department, she said, is proud of its public health laboratory and its ability to staff it sufficiently in the event of a public health emergency.

Whiting Sorrell said the state Health Department’s public health laboratory is also equipped to handle a wide range of tests in a timely manner.

“Several times throughout the year, DPHHS is vigilant about testing our response time to make sure we’re ready to fill our role in an emergency response,” Whiting Sorrell said. “Whether it’s H1N1, flooding or wildfires that have impacted Montana in recent years, DPHHS has met our obligations in responding to these types of emergencies.”

In the past decade, a series of significant health emergencies have emerged, including extreme weather events, a flu pandemic and foodborne outbreaks, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health.

“But for some reason, as a country, we haven’t learned that we need to bolster and maintain a consistent level of health emergency preparedness,” Levi said. “Investments made after Sept. 11, the anthrax attacks and Hurricane Katrina led to dramatic improvements, but now budget cuts and complacency are the biggest threats we face.”

The "Ready or Not?" report provides a snapshot of the nation’s public health emergency preparedness. Its indicators were developed in consultation with leading public health experts based on data from publicly available sources or information provided by public officials.

Public health preparedness has improved leaps and bounds from where we were 10 years ago, said Paul Kuehnert, director of the public health team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“But severe budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels threaten to undermine that progress,” Kuehnert said. “We must establish a baseline of ‘better safe than sorry’ preparedness that should not be crossed.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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