Maine earns a C+ in disaster preparedness

Posted Dec. 09, 2008, at 9:39 p.m.

In a new study of states’ preparedness for disease outbreaks, bioterror attacks and other large-scale disasters, Maine scored six points out of a possible 10 and earned a grade of C+.

More than half of all states, along with the District of Columbia, scored seven points or fewer in the study, which was released Tuesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health. The nonprofit groups faulted the national economic decline and recent cuts in federal funding for eroding emergency preparedness across the nation.

“States are being asked to do more with less,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We all have a stake in strengthening America’s public health system, because it is our first line of defense against health emergencies.”

Maine lost points for not having purchased supplies of antiviral medications; for not having a courier service to expedite the delivery of specimens to state laboratories; for not providing adequate liability protection to corporations that help out during a public health crisis; and for being slow to identify specific organisms that cause outbreaks of food poisoning.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said Tuesday that Maine has been unable to come up with the $2 million it would cost to purchase its allotment of antivirals from the federal government. “I don’t think access to antivirals should be dependent on the state’s economy,” she said. Mills also said Maine does have a laboratory courier system and also does have some laws that protect corporations during a disaster.

“There is some immunity in Maine law, but it’s not as extensive as they might like,” she said.

Maine racked up points for having a good plan to distribute vaccines and other medications during an emergency; for having an up-to-date public health laboratory; for having a disease-tracking system that is compatible with the one at the federal CDC; for having laws that protect health care volunteers who serve during an emergency; for having a coordinated medical reserve corps; and for maintaining state funding for public health services for the past two fiscal years.

New Hampshire scored a perfect 10 on the survey, along with Wisconsin, Louisiana, North Carolina and Virginia.

Seven states scored a nine. Ten states scored an eight. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia scored a seven. Eight states, including Maine, got a six. Six states — Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Montana and Nebraska — got fives, the worst score in the report.

The Trust for America’s Health works to make disease prevention a national priority. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation works to improve health care.

The report’s authors said they fear the nation’s economic meltdown will seriously erode progress in large-scale emergency preparedness that has been made in recent years.

The report, “Ready or Not; Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism,” is available online at http://healthyamericans.org.

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