Friday, December 19, 2014

Kansas gets low grade for disease preparedness

By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — Kansas is among the nation’s least prepared states for responding to outbreaks of severe infectious diseases, according to a national report.

The report, released Thursday by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that Kansas met three out of 10 key measures having to do preventing, detecting, diagnosing and responding to outbreaks.

Six other states — Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Wyoming — scored three as well. Only Arkansas fared worse, meeting two of the indicators. Missouri scored four.

The five top-scoring states — Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia — met eight of the 10 measures.

The scores were based on data from publicly available sources and from information provided by public officials.

The indicator categories included:

• Adequacy of public health funding.

• Preparation for emerging threats.

• Childhood vaccination rates.

• Flu vaccination rates.

• Climate change adaption plans.

• Health care-acquired infection rates.

• Sexually transmitted infection and disease rates.

• Response to foodborne illness outbreaks.

According to the report, Kansas earned points in food safety, preparation for emerging threats and one of two vaccination categories.

During a media call with reporters Thursday, Dr. Jeffrey Levi, executive director at the Trust for America’s Health, was asked what low-scoring states could do to improve their rankings.

He replied: “For most states, the place to start would be their public health budgets. The primary role of government — even in these difficult fiscal times — is to protect people from things they do not have control over, and infectious disease is a perfect example of that fundamental role. That would be a good starting point.”

According to the report, Kansas’ spending on public health in the last two fiscal years fell by almost 13 percent.

Of the 22 states that cut spending on public health, West Virginia led the nation with an 18 percent reduction. Kansas was second.

Sara Belfry, a Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokesperson, said the agency is — and has been — addressing the shortcomings cited in the report.

“Since 2011, KDHE has taken a closer look at our core public health mission, and have implemented a strategic approach to budgeting for programs across the agency to better align our spending with our core public health mission,” she wrote in an email to KHI News Service.

Last year, the state’s flu vaccination rate increased 7 percent, she said, adding, “We strongly recommend all Kansans get their flu vaccine to protect themselves and their loved ones from getting the flu.”

The department, she said, recently launched an initiative aimed at improving its processes for tracking sexually transmitted diseases.

“This would require a change in our administrative regulations, which requires a public comment period and publication in the Kansas Register,” Belfry wrote. “KDHE is in the process of revising these regulations.”

Michelle Ponce, executive director at the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, said the findings reflect her members’ concerns.

“Recent events, such as the Kansas measles and pertussis outbreaks and the national response to the Ebola virus, underscore the necessity of maintaining a strong public health system,“ she wrote in an email.

The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations dedicated to the improvement of public health.