Preparedness has been an important topic in public health in light of recent disasters, including Hurricane Sandy. Data released Thursday show that the U.S. is not fully equipped to properly respond to health emergencies.

TFAH Ready or Not

A report, co-issued by the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, measured 50 states and Washington, D.C., for their public health preparedness capabilities. Photo by TFAH

In “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism,” a report co-issued by the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 50 states and Washington, D.C. were measured for public health preparedness across a range of scenarios, including bioterrorist threats, serious disease outbreaks and extreme weather events.

The report praised accomplishments in public health preparedness since 2001, including vaccine manufacturing, the Strategic National Stockpile and increased surveillance, but cited four major reasons why progress has slowed:

  • outdated congressional authority, with public health legislation languishing in Congress for more than one year;
  • federal budget cuts, with a 38 percent drop from fiscal years 2005 to 2012 in funds designated to state and local preparedness by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • state budget cuts, with 29 states cutting their public health budgets from fiscal years 2010-2011 to 2011-2012; and
  • job and program cuts, with 57 percent of all local health departments reducing or eliminating at least one program in 2011.

“The good news is that considerable progress has been made to effectively prepare for and respond to public health emergencies of all types and sizes and much of what it takes to prepare for bioterrorism or major disasters is also essential to respond to ongoing “everyday” health emergencies. The bad news is that the accomplishments achieved over the past decade to improve public health preparedness for all hazards are now being undermined due to severe budget cuts and lack of prioritization,” the report states.

According to the report, only three states were not able to notify and assemble public health staff to ensure quick response to an incident in 2011. Conversely, the majority of states fell behind in whooping cough vaccinations, climate change adaptation plans and nurse licensure across state lines.

In a state-by-state analysis of public health preparedness, Kansas and Montana scored the lowest while Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin scored highest.

“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” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health.