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U.S. inadequately prepared to handle public health crises, with Oklahoma ranked just below average, study finds

Tulsa World - 12/25/2017

Oklahoma scored just below average nationally in an annual study assessing each state's key indicators of public health preparedness, with the U.S. not adequately poised to address disease, disaster or bioterrorism crises.

The 116-page report found that the U.S. reacts inefficiently to emergencies by relying on supplemental federal funding packages each time a disaster strikes. The country scrambles to divert funds from ongoing priorities, using emergency spending to try to backfill basic gaps and address whatever crisis just emerged.

"Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism" was released Tuesday. The yearly report is published each December by Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit and nonpartisan agency devoted to public health, according to its website.

The study states that many improvements prompted by 9/11, the anthrax scare and Hurricane Katrina have eroded, evidenced by a steep decline in base-level preparedness funding by more than 50 percent in the past 15 years.

"The country does not invest enough to maintain strong, basic core capabilities for health security readiness and there is often a need for additional funds - emergency surge dollars in the form of a standing Health Emergency Fund that can be used when major events happen," according to the report. "Rather, funding to support the base level of preparedness has been cut - by more than half since 2002 - eroding advancements that had been achieved and the country's standing capabilities have been reduced."

States on average met five of the 10 indicators the study evaluated.

Oklahoma achieved four:

an accredited public health department

participation in an Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact

state laboratory provides biosafety training or information about biosafety training courses

state laboratory has a biosafety professional

Oklahoma falls short in the study's other six indicators:

maintaining or increasing public health funding from prior fiscal year

increased overall preparedness score between 2015 and 2016

vaccinated at least half of its population for the seasonal flu

has joined the U.S. Climate Alliance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement

has paid sick leave law

has at least 70 percent of hospitals meeting Antibiotic Stewardship Program core elements

Oklahoma appropriated $162 million to its public health budget in fiscal year 2017, which is $41.29 per capita, according to the study. The national average is $36.11. The state's overall figure is down 1 percent from the previous fiscal year, when the state Legislature appropriated $163.7 million.

Among several recommendations, the report favors stable and sufficient funding for ongoing emergency readiness and a permanent public health emergency fund that can be tapped instantly for immediate or "surge" needs when a crisis hits.

"Both are necessary in order to prevent the kind of post-emergency response where we scramble for the necessary resources, lose time, and during that time period potentially see injuries and illnesses and even deaths that could have been prevented," said John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America's Health.

The report's top-rated states were Massachusetts and Rhode Island, both of which satisfied nine of the study's 10 indicators. The worst ranked is Alaska, which only scored two out of 10.

Oklahoma's neighboring states in order from most to least were: Colorado (7), Arkansas (4), Missouri (4), Kansas (3), New Mexico (3), and Texas (3).


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