Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Index of readiness for disasters and health emergencies has Ky. about same as U.S.; slips in environmental, occupational health

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Is Kentucky ready to manage a natural disaster or a health emergency? Just as much as the nation as a whole is, according to a recently released Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report.

The annual report, called the 2018 National Health Security Preparedness Index, gives Kentucky an score of 7.1 on a 10-point scale for preparedness, the same as the national average. The state and nation saw a slight improvement from the previous year's score, following continuous improvements since 2013.

"Five years of continuous gains in health security nationally is remarkable progress," Glen Mays, who leads researchers at the University of Kentucky who develop the index, said in a news release. "But achieving equal protection across the U.S. population remains a critical unmet priority."

Kentucky was one of 11 states more or less at the national average. Those below average were largely in the Deep South, Southwest and Mountain West regions. Maryland had the top score of 8.0 and Alaska and Nevada shared the bottom number of 6.4.

Such numbers are becoming more important. "The United States experienced the most active and expensive year on record for disasters and emergency events in 2017, with total economic damages exceeding $300 billion," the report begins, adding that the "uneven pace" of improvement for health security across the U.S. is "leaving large and growing segments of the American population under-protected."

The index analyzes 140 measures, such as the number of pediatricians, flu-vaccination rates, bridge safety and food and water safety, to calculate a composite score of health security for each state and the nation as a whole.

The measures are then grouped into six larger categories including, health security surveillance; community planning and engagement; information and incident management; health-care delivery; countermeasure management; and environmental and occupational health.

Kentucky improved or stayed about the same as the national averages in all but one of those broad areas -- environmental and occupational health, which measures state's ability to maintain the security and safety of water and food supplies, to test for hazards and contaminants in the environment, and to protect workers and emergency responders. Kentucky's score for this measure dropped about 5 percent from the prior year, to 6.0. The national score is 6.6.

Kentucky saw its greatest improvement in health security surveillance, which rose 13.2 percent between 2013 and 2017. This measure looks at the state's ability to monitor and detect health threats, and to identify where hazards start and spread so that they can be contained rapidly. Kentucky's score for this domain was 8.6, compared to the national average of 8.1.

The state's lowest score, 5.2, is in health-care delivery, but that is the same as the national average. This category measures a state's ability to ensure access to high-quality medical services across the continuum of care during and after disasters and emergencies.

Suggestions from the report to to improve health security include: improving data sources and metrics; strengthening networks and coalitions; improving workforce policies, like offering paid leave and health insurance; improving health care delivery preparedness; assuring a dedicated and adequately resourced health security emergency response is in place; assuring adequate funding for an established health security infrastructure; and allowing for flexibility in the existing health security funding mechanisms.

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