Emergency unpreparedness plagues states

Thanks largely to budget cuts, states are unprepared to respond to public health emergencies, such as natural disasters, disease outbreaks and bioterrorism attacks, according to a new report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Researchers looked at 10 key indicators, including the status of public health funding and ability to notify and assemble public health staff within 60 minutes, among others.

The report showed disappointing results, with no states receiving a perfect 10. In fact, 29 states slashed public health funding in the past year, while 48 states and Washington, D.C., failed to meet the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 90 percent vaccination goal for whooping cough. Moreover, 21 states lack Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) accreditation.

When it comes emergency preparedness, "It's a pay now or pay later situation," Trust for America's Health Executive Director Jeffrey Levi said. He noted that making up-front investments in resources will lead to savings in the long run, according to Medscape.

The report echoes warnings from the American Hospital Association that hospitals lack the support and explicit funding needed to fulfill their standby role and provide disaster response services. Although hospitals are under increased pressure for disaster preparedness, explicit funding has been shrinking while reimbursement for disaster relief often falls short of expenses, according to a November report.

But New Jersey's handling of Superstorm Sandy highlighted the nation's public health preparedness, Medscape noted.

For instance, Hackensack University Medical Center was able to absorb some of the patient overflow before, during and after Sandy, thanks to New Jersey Mobile Satellite Emergency Department units, according to a letter to the editor at Becker's Hospital Review.

The event also revealed some improvements in emergency management and preparation among the state's medical centers that "rose to the occasion," Hackensack University Health Network President and CEO Robert C. Garrett wrote yesterday.

"Coordination, cooperation and open communication between hospitals were integral to the success of patient transfers and should be used as standard practices for the future," he said.

For more:
- here's the Medscape article
- check out the RWJF report (.pdf)
- read the Hackensack letter to the editor