A study released Tuesday ranked Hawaii’s public health emergency preparedness in the bottom half of states, citing in part the inability to adequately staff public labs in the event of an infectious outbreak among the state’s failures.
Hawaii fulfilled seven of 10 key indicators of public health preparedness, according to the eighth annual report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The report contended that Hawaii was unable to quickly identify and report E. coli infections; cannot adequately increase public health lab staffing in response to an outbreak of an infectious disease, and did not activate its emergency operations center — either as a drill or in response to a real incident — at least twice in 2007 or 2008.
"Our ability to meet these reporting requirements was hampered by the statewide financial crisis and the mandate to reduce the work force," said Keith Ridley, acting director of the state Department of Health. "We can only do so much. However, these issues, while serious, are in no way insurmountable, and we look forward to regaining our ability to meet these requirements."
The report’s authors noted that tight state budgets are threatening spending on emergency preparedness. Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., cut public health funding in the last year or so, and 18 of those states had reduced such spending for the second year in a row.
Hawaii increased its public health budget between July 2008 and last June, one of the seven state indicators the report looked at.
The agency disagreed with the report’s finding about Hawaii’s emergency operations center. Andrea Becklund, the department’s bioterrorism preparedness branch chief, said it was activated during a March 2008 exercise involving the strategic national stockpile and an annual hurricane drill two months later.
Becklund said she’s not sure why that detail did not make it into the report. "I’m not exactly sure where the loophole was in the information channel," she said.
Later Tuesday, the Healthcare Association of Hawaii issued a statement criticizing the report.
Toby Clairmont, the association’s director of emergency services, said unlike other states, responsibility for emergency preparedness and response in Hawaii is shared between government, health care providers and other entities.
"The report failed to take these facts into account, thus giving a misleading and false impression of the state’s current condition of readiness," Clairmont said.
The other indicators that Hawaii met included the health department’s access to an electronic system that can report and exchange information; the development of at least two plans to improve after-action reports since 2007; and a requirement that child care facilities have written evacuation plans.
Three states posted perfect scores, 11 states met nine of 10 indicators and 18 scored eight indicators. The District of Columbia and 18 states, including Hawaii, met seven or fewer indicators.
The scores "reflect nearly 10 years of progress to improve how the nation prevents, identifies and contains new disease outbreaks and bioterrorism threats, and responds to the aftermath of natural disasters in the wake of the September 11, 2001, and anthrax tragedies," the report stated.