A national report released Wednesday ranked Oklahoma six out of 10 in key indicators of public health preparedness, meaning its ability to respond in case of widespread emergency.
Thirty-five states and Washington, D.C., scored a six or lower on the report by Trust for America's Health, something that concerns the organization's executive director.
“In the past decade, there have been a series of significant health emergencies, including extreme weather events, a flu pandemic and foodborne outbreaks,” Jeffrey Levi said. “But, for some reason, as a country, we haven't learned that we need to bolster and maintain a consistent level of health emergency preparedness.
“Investments made after Sept. 11, the anthrax attacks and Hurricane Katrina led to dramatic improvements, but now budget cuts and complacency are the biggest threats we face.”
Trust for America's Health is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on health of communities and works to make disease prevention a national priority.
The organization's report, released each year, looks at 10 indicators, based on publicly available data, that relate to how prepared a state is in case of a public health crisis. This might include pandemic, bioterrorism or a major weather-related disaster.
Overall, one of the report's biggest critiques is the continued funding cuts at the local, state and federal level. In 2011, Oklahoma cut public health funds by 10.6 percent, according to last year's report.
Levi said these cuts put the success that public health has seen at risk.
One example of this type of budget cut in Oklahoma is the funding cut made to the state's surveillance of mosquitoes.
Until this year, the state Health Department had a contract with Oklahoma State University's entomology department to trap mosquitoes across Oklahoma, testing them for mosquito-borne disease.
This past year, because of funding cuts, the state Health Department no longer had money available to pay for the mosquito surveillance. This lack of surveillance meant the Health Department didn't know West Nile virus was in Oklahoma until the first human case.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma saw 177 cases and 13 deaths related to West Nile virus this year, more than any other year since the virus first entered the United States in 1999.
“What's scary about this kind of situation is — we don't know what we don't know,” he said. “If we don't have the resources to do the kind of surveillance and have real-time situational awareness, our response will always be behind the curve.”
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