Washington A federal study released last week gives Kansas hospitals low marks in their preparedness for bioterrorism threats.
However, health officials say improvements have been made since the survey was done last year as the state learns to coordinate hospital response to disasters.
Diana Lippoldt, Wesley Medical Center's trauma director who has helped coordinate planning for the Wichita area, said Kansas hospitals, both urban and rural, have come a long way in a short time.
She said an increase in federal funding and better planning have helped increase the hospital's terrorism preparedness.
The U.S. General Accounting Office report on hospital preparedness surveyed more than 2,000 hospitals in urban areas nationwide.
In Kansas, 19 hospitals, including Wesley, Via Christi Regional Medical Center and hospitals in the Kansas City, Topeka and Lawrence areas, received surveys measuring progress on their plans to treat victims of bioterrorism and what equipment they had to treat victims.
It could not be determined late Saturday whether Lawrence Memorial Hospital has the plans in place.
Hospitals also were asked how well their staffs were trained to recognize rare diseases such as anthrax, plague or botulism.
Kansas had one of the nation's lowest response rates -- only 12 of the 19 hospitals surveyed completed the lengthy questionnaire. Compared with respondents in other states, Kansas fared poorly in several areas:
- Only 67 percent of Kansas hospitals responding had a written emergency plan to deal with bioterrorism. Only West Virginia fared worse.
- 58 percent had agreements with other hospitals to share resources in a bioterrorism attack. Only four states had a lower percentage.
- A smaller percentage of Kansas hospitals had provided staffs with training in detecting plague and botulism, both deadly diseases, than any other state.
Hospitals in the study were surveyed between May and September 2002. Susan Morris, an administrator at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, acknowledged that the state has had a steep learning curve to enact bioterrorism plans.
But since the survey, the state has done much to shore up its weaknesses, she said.
Hospitals of all sizes statewide are signing off on procedures for sharing resources in case of bioterrorism, said Morris, who is coordinating the state's hospital bioterrorism response plan.
The procedures divide the state into six regions and designate which hospitals help one another under different attack scenarios, integrating hospitals with law enforcement and disaster-response agencies, she said.
Part of the battle, Lippoldt said, is realizing that such catastrophes can happen in Kansas.
"People ask, what would some terrorist want here?" she said. "Then you think of Boeing, McConnell, and you realize the food basket of the country's here in the wheat land -- and you realize, quite a lot."