State budget cuts jeopardize emergency preparedness

Although the nation's public health system is well-prepared to deal with health emergencies, severe budget cuts threaten to undo years of progress, according to a national review of how well states respond to widespread medical disasters.

Fourteen states scored at least a nine out of 10 on key indicators of health emergency preparedness, while three states--Arkansas, North Dakota and Washington--scored 10 out of 10. No state scored lower than five, notes the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Yet, according to the report, those advances are being jeopardized by shrinking budgets, which put the nation at risk of losing its ability to effectively respond to health emergencies, notes WebMD Health News.

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., cut funding for public health last year, while 18 states cut funding two years in a row. Federal dollars going toward emergency preparedness have dropped 27 percent since 2005, according to the study. In addition, local public health departments slashed 23,000 jobs--15 percent of the local public health workforce--since January 2008.

"Unfortunately, the recent and continued budget cuts will exacerbate the vulnerable areas in U.S. crisis response capabilities and have the potential to reverse the progress we have made over the last decade," TFAH Executive Director Jeffrey Levi said in a statement.

The report also found that U.S. emergency preparedness faces gaps in funding to modernize infrastructure; capacity for handling a surge in patients; identifying and serving the most vulnerable Americans; retaining a sufficient number of public health experts; and researching and developing vaccines and medications.

For more:
- here's the press release
- read the WebMD Health News article
- read the WSJ's Health Blog post