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    Budget Cuts Threaten Emergency Preparedness

    States Score High on Readiness to Deal With Disease, Disasters, Terrorism
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Dec. 14, 2010 -- Local and state health departments are better prepared than ever to deal with public health emergencies, but recession-related budget cuts threaten to reverse hard-won gains, a newly released analysis finds.

    The readiness of individual states to handle large-scale public health emergencies was assessed in the eighth annual report, “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism,” commissioned by the health advocacy groups Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Fourteen states met at least nine of 10 key indicators of emergency preparedness, while three states -- Arkansas, North Dakota, and Washington -- met all 10.

    Iowa and Montana had the lowest scores, meeting just five of the 10 indicators.

    “These scores reflect nearly 10 years of progress to improve how the nation prevents, identifies and contains new disease outbreaks and bioterrorism threats and responds to the aftermath of natural disasters in the wake of the September 11, 2001 and anthrax tragedies,” Trust for America’s Health Executive Director Jeffrey Levi, PhD, said in a Tuesday morning press conference.

    Budget Cuts Threaten Post-9/11 Gains

    More than three-quarters of states met at least seven of the 10 indicators, but Levi warned that budget cuts at the national, state, and local level may have already impacted readiness to respond to public health emergencies such as disease outbreaks, natural disasters, or acts of terrorism that impact public health.

    Among the ominous signs:

    • 33 states and Washington, D.C., cut funding for public health last year, and 18 states cut funding for the second year in a row. Georgia decreased funding the most by almost 35%, followed by Arizona and the District of Columbia, which cut funding by 23% and 18%, respectively.
    • Since 2008, 15% of public health work force has been cut at 2,700 health departments across the country.
    • In addition to cutting staff, many state and local governments have instituted work furloughs, hiring freezes, and shorter workweeks to address budget shortfalls.
    • Nearly three-quarters of Americans live in areas where local health departments have fewer employees than they did before the recession began.

    Levi points out that the cuts would have been much worse without one-time funding infusions to public health from the 2009 stimulus bill and emergency appropriations for the H1N1 outbreak.

    He added that the cuts are now hitting home and their potential impact cannot be overstated.

    “The combined federal, state, and local budget cuts constitute an emergency for emergency health preparedness in the U.S.,” he said.

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