Report: Maryland better prepared than average for public health emergency

If Maryland were to be hit by a public health emergency — such as a natural disaster or an outbreak of a serious disease — officials here are better prepared than in many other states, according to a new survey.

On a 10-point scale, Maryland rates 7.5 for its efforts to prepare for and respond to such emergencies, according to the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index.

The index is compiled annually by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to assess preparedness for "community health emergencies."

The foundation looks at more than 100 measures, such as monitoring food and water safety, flu vaccination rates, and numbers of paramedics and hospitals. The measures are grouped into six categories that are given a ranking on the 10-point scale.

Maryland came in better than the national average of 6.8.

Maryland also outranked most of its neighbors: West Virginia (6.7), the District of Columbia (7.0), Pennsylvania (7.0) and Delaware (7.2). Virginia also scored 7.5.

Vermont scored highest at 7.8, while Alaska ranked as least-prepared with a score of 5.9.

Maryland scored best for the ability to mobilize resources to deal with a health emergency, where the state earned a 9.3.

The lowest-scoring categories for Maryland were for community involvement in emergency planning and the access to high-quality medical care during a public health emergency. Maryland rated 6.3 in those categories.

Maryland is not alone in scoring lower in those two categories, said Anna Goodman, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Kentucky and deputy director of the index.

"Those two nationally are underperforming areas that we would like to see the numbers start moving on," Goodman said.

The index notes areas where improvement is possible, not just in Maryland. In particular, preparing for public health emergencies isn't just the job for government emergency managers and health officials — private-sector businesses and residents play a role, too.

For example, Goodman said, businesses can allow employees to work from home during flu outbreaks to minimize the transmission of the illness.

The index also notes that the country needs to look at a more "nimble and flexible" way to fund research and response to public health emergencies, Goodman said. In recent years, for instance, it's taken a long time to release federal money for Zika virus research and for helping with contaminated drinking water in Flint, Mich., she noted.

The authors of the report also noted the "slow and uneven pace" of improving national health security.

"Large differences in preparedness persisted across states, and those in the Deep South and Mountain West regions lagged significantly behind the rest of the nation," the authors wrote.

It will take at least 20 years to get the nation to an average rating of 9.0, according to researchers.

The index was created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 and was taken over by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2015. More than 30 organizations contributed to the index.

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