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Study: U.S. Unprepared For Public Disaster

A new study indicates that five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, public health emergency preparedness is still not at an acceptable level in most states.

Researchers for Trust for America's Health looked at 10 factors, including having enough labs to test for biological threats and having enough hospital beds to handle a moderately severe flu pandemic.

No state received a perfect score. However, executive director Jeffrey Levi said Kansas and Oklahoma received the highest scores, with nine out of the 10 indicators met. California, Iowa, Maryland and New Jersey are at the bottom, with scores of four out of 10.

"The nation is nowhere near as prepared as we should be for bioterrorism, bird flu and other health disasters," Levi said. "We continue to make progress each year, but it is limited. As a whole, Americans face unnecessary and unacceptable levels of risk."

Levi said many states are vulnerable when it comes to pandemics. He said if one struck today, half the states wouldn't be able to address the surge in demand for health care in the first two weeks of the outbreak. "That's distressing," he said.

Some of the study's key findings include:

  • Only 15 states are rated at the highest preparedness level to provide emergency vaccines, antidotes and medical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile.
  • Twenty-five states would run out of hospital beds within two weeks of a moderate pandemic flu outbreak.
  • Forty states face a shortage of nurses.
  • Eleven states and the District of Columbia lack sufficient capabilities to test for biological threats.
  • Six states cut their public health budgets from fiscal year 2005 to 2006; the median rate for state public health spending is $31 per person per year.

    The report recommends the federal government establish "optimally achievable standards" to ensure that each state is made accountable for its public health resources. Also, the report suggests the government grant temporary health benefits for people with little or no insurance during states of emergency.

    The report said Missouri has enough scientists and labs to deal with a chemical terrorism threat and test for anthrax or plague. It also has year-round, lab-based influenza surveillance, has two weeks' hospital bed surge capacity in a moderate pandemic and is one of only 14 states fully prepared to distribute vaccines or antidotes in a health disaster.

    Missouri maintained its seasonal flu vaccination rate for adults over age 65, the report found. The state is compatible with the national surveillance system operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it increased or maintained funding for public health services over the past year.

    But Missouri is one of 40 states that have a nursing shortage. And the state is below the national median for the number of adults over 65 who have ever received pneumonia vaccine, the report found.

    The report found that Kansas has enough scientists and labs to deal with a chemical terrorism threat and test for anthrax or plague. It also has year-round, lab-based influenza surveillance, has two weeks' hospital bed surge capacity in a moderate pandemic and is one of only 10 states that does not have a nursing shortage, the report found.

    Kansas maintained its seasonal flu vaccination rate for adults over age 65 and is at or above the national median for the number of adults over 65 who have ever received pneumonia vaccine. The state is compatible with the national surveillance system operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it increased or maintained funding for public health services over the past year.

    But the state is not fully prepared to distribute vaccines or antidotes in a health disaster, the report found. Only 14 states met that indicator.

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