Most states score six or below in public health preparedness report

A majority of states scored a six out of 10 or lower in a recent annual public health preparedness report issued by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

TFAH announced the results of the 10th annual "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism" report on Thursday. On a scale of one to 10, 35 states and Washington, D.C. scored a six or below on indicators of public health preparedness.

The report found that despite significant improvements in public health preparedness in the past decade, there are persistent gaps in the nation's ability to respond to health emergencies like bioterrorist threats and serious disease outbreaks.

"In the past decade, there have been a series of significant health emergencies, including extreme weather events, a flu pandemic and food-borne outbreaks," Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of TFAH, said. "But, for some reason, as a country, we haven't learned that we need to bolster and maintain a consistent level of health emergency preparedness. Investments made after September 11, the anthrax attacks and Hurricane Katrina led to dramatic improvements, but now budget cuts and complacency are the biggest threats we face."

Montana and Kansas were rated as the least prepared, with scores of three out of 10. Wisconsin, Vermont, North Carolina, Mississippi and Maryland scored the best with ratings of eight out of 10.

"Public health preparedness has improved leaps and bounds from where we were 10 years ago," Paul Kuehnert, the director of the public health team at the RWJF, said. "But severe budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels threaten to undermine that progress. We must establish a baseline of 'better safe than sorry' preparedness that should not be crossed."

Some suggestions the report makes for the U.S. to address the gaps in emergency health preparedness include reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, providing ongoing support to communities to better recover from emergencies, modernizing biosurveillance, addressing antibiotic resistance, updating its food safety system, and improving development, research and manufacturing of medical countermeasures.

Trust for America's Health is a non-profit organization with the goal of making disease prevention a national priority. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a philanthropic organization that focuses on health care issues facing the United States.