Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

State at bottom in bioterror readiness

Decades of ‘underinvestment’ blamed

December 13, 2003


— Is Kansas ready to handle a bioterrorism attack? The answer, according to a new national report, is no.

The report by Trust for America's Health ranked Kansas in the bottom third of states in bioterrorism preparedness.

In fact, most states failed to make significant security improvements since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on Washington, D.C., and New York and after $2 billion of federal bioterrorism funding. Since 9-11, Kansas has received $23 million in federal funds for defense.

"Are we ready or not? The answer is not. Now is the time to get serious about developing an all-hazards approach to public health to ensure we are ready for the range of possible threats we face," said Shelley A. Hearne, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group.

"The federal bioterrorism funds were an important first step. However, two years of increased funding cannot make up for two decades of underinvestment," she said.

Authors of the study also noted that because of terrorism and outbreaks of new diseases "federal, state and local health officials are being pushed and pulled beyond their limits."

Kansas trailing

The report gauged how states performed in 10 areas that dealt with preparation against bioterrorism and large-scale health emergencies.

Kansas was one of 12 states that passed three of the 10 indicators.

Only five states -- Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and Wisconsin -- scored lower, meeting two of the indicators.

Florida, Maryland and Tennessee led all states with seven out of 10. Nationally, 38 states earned marks for five or fewer of the areas

Kansas officials conceded that improvements were needed but also focused on gains that had been made.

"We knew from the start that this would be a multiyear effort, and we will continue to improve our preparedness in cooperation with our federal and state partners," said Richard Morrissey , acting state health director and executive director of the Kansas Bioterrorism Program.

Report card

All states received one point for having developed an initial bioterrorism plan. Kansas was one of 24 states that had spent 90 percent of its federal funds for bioterrorism preparedness, and it was also recognized along with 42 other states for having a laboratory equipped to handle critical biological agents.

But Kansas fell short in seven other areas, including failing to funnel at least 50 percent of federal funds to local health departments; having an insufficient number of health care workers; and failing to maintain or increase health spending.

State officials said the amount of funding shared with local health departments was just under 50 percent; Kansas is caught up in a nationwide shortage of qualified health workers; and like most states it has had to reduce state spending to make up budget shortfalls.

The report also noted that Kansas failed to have a pandemic flu plan and didn't have enough laboratories to handle a public health emergency.

Kansas officials say they are drafting a plan to respond to an influenza outbreak and that they have put together a network of labs to help perform initial testing.

"We appreciate the feedback and comparison with other states," said Mindee Reece, director of the Kansas Bioterrorism Program. "We are continuing to improve our preparedness every day and will make sure that the areas identified in the report are a priority in our ongoing efforts."

The report can be accessed at

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