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Va ranks high in health-emergency preparedness

Wednesday - 12/19/2012, 11:45am  ET

RICHMOND, Va. - An annual report released Wednesday by two health advocacy groups ranks Virginia high compared with the rest of the country in being prepared for public-health emergencies, but said spending cuts could threaten the state's ability to prevent and respond to disease outbreaks, disasters and other threats.

The Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation say Virginia was among 10 states that meet seven of 10 key benchmarks of public-health preparedness. No state met all 10 benchmarks, and a majority of states met six or fewer of the measures.

The "Ready or Not" report said Virginia complies with several indicators of public-health crisis preparedness, including notifying and immediately assembling public health staff to respond to an incident, having an accredited emergency management program, requiring licensed child-care facilities to have a written evacuation and relocation plan, and having the public health laboratory staffing to respond to an infectious disease outbreak.

But the report noted that Virginia has decreased its public-health budget from the 2010-2011 to 2011-12 fiscal years. The state also didn't meet benchmarks for requiring Medicaid to cover flu shots with no co-pays for those under the age of 65, or meeting goals of vaccinating 90 percent of 19-to-35-month-olds against whooping cough.

The report said that scores overall reflect improvements over time in how officials prevent, identify and respond to disease, bioterrorism threats and natural disasters.

States have made progress in being prepared for public emergencies since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, but gaps still exist nationwide in funding and the ability to respond to threats to public health, the report said.

"Public health preparedness has improved leaps and bounds. ... But severe budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels threaten to undermine that progress," Paul Kuehnert, director of the public health team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement. "We must establish a baseline of `better safe than sorry' preparedness that should not be crossed."

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