Report scores Arkansas 7 out of 10 in emergency preparedness


LITTLE ROCK — A report evaluating states’ preparedness for public health emergencies has given Arkansas a score of 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

The report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released Wednesday, gave a score of 8 to five states; a 7 to 10 states; a 6 to 15 states; a 5 to 13 states and the District of Columbia; a 4 to five states; and a 3 to two states. No state received a 9 or 10 score.

Scores were based on 10 indicators. Arkansas was credited with satisfying the following seven: Ability to notify and assemble public health personnel quickly; requiring Medicaid to cover flu shots with no co-pay for people under 65; requiring child-care facilities to have a written evacuation and relocation plan; having accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program; participating in a Nurse Licensure Compact; having enough staffing capacity to work five 12-hour days for six to eight weeks in response to an infectious disease outbreak; and increasing or maintaining the chemical capability of the state’s public health laboratory.

Arkansas lost points for failing to maintain or increase its funding of public health services in the last fiscal year; failing to vaccinate 90 percent of 19- to 35-month-olds against whooping cough; and failing to have a complete climate change adaptation plan.

Kansas and Montana scored the lowest with a 3. Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin scored highest with an 8.

“There are some good things and some bad” in the report, said Arkansas Health Department spokesman Ed Barham.

Barham said a 2.1 percent decrease in the state’s public health funding is no surprise to anyone in the current climate of tight budgeting. He said that although the state’s vaccination rate for whooping cough is not 90 percent, “we’ve got an 84.5 percent coverage, which is very good — and we’re getting closer.”

In 2010, the annual “Ready or Not?” report gave Arkansas a score of 10 out of 10, but based on different indicators.

“I guess they stick the thermometer in a different place every (time) to take our temperature,” Barham said. “But we’re proud of our progress in preparedness, and certainly in the last decade we’ve come a long way.”

The 2012 report faulted 29 states, including Arkansas, for decreasing public health funding in the 2011-12 fiscal year. The report also said federal funding for public health preparedness has decreased by 38 percent since fiscal year 2005.

Since 2008, state and federal budget cuts have resulted in the loss of 45,700 jobs at state and local health departments, according to the report.

“Public health preparedness has improved leaps and bounds from where we were 10 years ago,” said Paul Kuehnert, director of the Public Health Team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “But severe budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels threaten to undermine that progress. We must establish a baseline of ‘better safe than sorry’ preparedness that should not be crossed.”

Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, said that “investments made after September 11, the anthrax attacks and Hurricane Katrina led to dramatic improvements, but now budget cuts and complacency are the biggest threats we face.”

The report recommended increasing funding for public health preparedness “to ensure basic capabilities to respond to threats public health departments face every day and also to have the trained experts and systems in place to act quickly in the face of major, unexpected emergencies.”