Report: Swine flu shows we're not ready for emergencies

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 15, 2009 

WASHINGTON — The swine flu outbreak has exposed holes in the nation's emergency-preparedness network, according to a report issued Tuesday on how well states can handle a public health disaster.

"The H1N1 outbreak has vividly revealed existing gaps in public health emergency preparedness," said Richard Hamburg, the deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, a nonpartisan public-health advocacy group, which co-authored the report with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Hamburg, who spoke on a conference call with reporters, compared what he called the nation's "Band-Aid approach" to emergency preparedness to "only funding the fire department after the fire has already started."

The report, titled "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health From Disease, Disasters and Bioterrorism," found that:

  • 27 states cut funds for public health from 2008 to 2009.
  • 13 states have only half their share of federally subsidized anti-flu drugs to stockpile for an epidemic.
  • 11 states and the District of Columbia reported that they don't have enough lab staff to work the kinds of intense 12-hours days for six to eight weeks during infectious disease outbreaks such as swine flu.

No state met all 10 of the report's indicators used to measure their levels of emergency preparedness. Seven states met nine: Arkansas, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Vermont. Montana met just three.

The report called for restoring money cut from public health budgets and improving flu-vaccine production. Other recommendations: a post-H1N1 outbreak study to reassess emergency planning and education campaigns about vaccine safety.

"We might think that things like the recent H1N1 outbreak, like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 should be wakeup calls for politicians and key officeholders and the public," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. "Unfortunately, events like that are too often more like a snooze alarm. We get aroused, we spend money and we then just drift back into a state of complacency."

ON THE WEB

The Trust for America's Health report

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Caribbean nations prepare for potential H1N1 flu outbreak

Who's important? Gates gets H1N1 flu shot; Obama doesn't

Poll: Almost half of Americans reject swine flu vaccine

Instead of calling doctors, many Google first

Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service