An annual study of public health preparedness ranked Maryland in the middle of the pack in its readiness. The state scored 7 out of 10 on the key indicators.
Called "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism" report, the report was released today by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It said this year, the H1N1 flu outbreak exposed serious gaps in the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies.
This year, economic crisis is putting more pressure on the already fragile public health system.
The researchers used publicly available data and interviewed public health officials. They concluded that 20 states scored six or less out of 10. Nearly two-thirds of states scored seven or less. Seven states tied for the highest score of nine out of 10. Montana had the lowest score at three out of 10.
“The H1N1 outbreak has vividly revealed existing gaps in public health emergency preparedness,” said Richard Hamburg, Deputy Director of the trust. “The Ready or Not? report shows that a band-aid approach to public health is inadequate. As the second wave of H1N1 starts to dissipate, it doesn’t mean we can let down our defenses. In fact, it’s time to double down and provide a sustained investment in the underlying infrastructure, so we will be prepared for the next emergency and the one after that.”
The report authors wouldn't say what was a passing grade, but said that funding, long a problem, is a special problem this year and most states cut money -- including Maryland.
-purchase 50 percent or more of its share of federally-subsidized antiviral medications to prepare for a potential pandemic flu outbreak,
-submit data on available hospital beds weekly for at least 50 percent of the facilities within the state to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the 2009 H1N1 response,
-ensure its public health lab has the capacity in place to assure the timely pick-up and delivery of disease samples on a 24/7, 365 day basis,
-report its public health lab has enough staff to work the intense hours needed during an emergency, like H1N1 (five, 12-hour days for six to eight weeks),
-track diseases through an Internet system used by the CDC,
-not identified the pathogen responsible for reported food-borne disease outbreaks at a rate that met or exceeded the national average of 46 percent (combined data 2005-2007).,
-meet the Medical Reserve Corps readiness criteria for medical volunteers during an emergency,
-require all licensed childcare facilities to have a multi-hazard written evacuation and relocation plan for emergencies,
-not have a law or legal opinion in place to limit liability against organizations that provide volunteer help during emergencies,
-not increased or maintained level of funding for public health services from FY 2007-08 to FY 2008-09.
Report authors recommend states: ensure stable and sufficient funding, conduct an H1N1 after-action report and update preparedness plans with lessons learned, increase accountability and transparency, improve community preparedness.
UPDATE: Here's a response from the John M. Colmers, the secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:
"While Maryland's 'report card' score improved dramatically what's really important are our everyday real-life efforts to protect public health. A realistic scoring would put us at the top of the class, 90 percent or above. We're proud of what we do and how we do it, especially given our preparedness and response to the most significant public health issue in recent years; H1N1 (swine) flu.
We dispute their findings which incorrectly and arbitrarily dismiss Maryland's extensive efforts to protect the public against food-borne illness and limit legal liability during a public health emergency. These are points we raised directly with the study's author."