Montana's ability to respond to bioterrorism at risk

A national report recently concluded that Montana programs to detect and respond to bioterrorism, disease outbreaks and disasters are at risk because of state and federal budget cuts.

The report, written by Trust for America's Health, a non-profit organization dedicated to disease prevention, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to improving healthcare in America, found that while significant investments have led to improvements in biopreparedness, the resources dedicated have not been sufficient, according to

"Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism" documents how preparedness levels in the state were advancing until the onset of the economic crisis and how cuts to public health budgets and staffs have begun to take a major toll.

"We're seeing a decade's worth of progress eroding in front of our eyes," Jeff Levi, the executive director of the Trust for America's Health, said, reports. "Preparedness had been on an upward trajectory, but now some of the most elementary capabilities — including the ability to identify and contain outbreaks, provide vaccines and medications during emergencies, and treat people during mass traumas — are experiencing cuts in every state across the country."

Similar events are being played out across the country. Health officials have reported that combined federal, state and local public health departments have been unable to sustain some critical preparedness elements. In the past year, 40 states and Washington, D.C. have cut public health funds.

Over the past year, Montana has been forced to slash state public health funding by 7.5 percent.

Billings is one of 51 cities in the Cities Readiness Initiative program that is at risk for elimination. The program supports the rapid distribution of vaccines during public health emergencies. Montana is also at risk for losing the support of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Career Epidemiology field officer. Field officers supplement state and local gaps to help regions rapidly respond to outbreaks and disasters.

"Over the past many years, DPHHS has worked hard with local health agencies to put an effective system in place to increase our level of preparedness. Like other states, we are concerned about decreased funding and what it could mean to Montana," Anna Whiting Sorrell, the director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said, reports.