The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE --- As the 2019 hurricane season looms and as hepatitis A cases continue to soar in Florida, a report issued Wednesday shows that more work needs to be done to ensure the health and safety of residents against emerging infectious diseases, terrorism and extreme weather conditions.
Florida scored a 6.7 on the 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index, putting it on par with the national average. The report, issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, analyzed 129 different measures for each state and the nation. The measures are spread across six broad categories and tallied for an overall score.
Glen Mays, a professor of health policy at the University of Kentucky who worked on the index, said the information is being shared to try to improve the nation’s ability to ensure the public health and safety of citizens during disasters.
“Given that as a country we are facing more of these emergency situations, natural disasters, man-made disasters and more disease outbreaks, so raising awareness about what each state can do and where the strengths are and also where the weaknesses are, we hope that can mobilize some people to take some action,” he said. “That’s the major purpose. Because when it comes to disaster preparedness, it’s largely a voluntary effort. You’re trying to get organizations willing to work together to do their part. And this provides a way of showing where we are.”
The assessment was originally developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013. The goal is to attain a composite score of 9, which would indicate a “strong health security level.”
Florida earned a 9 in two categories: health security surveillance and incident and information management.
Health security surveillance encompasses the ability to monitor and detect health threats and to identify where hazards start and spread so that they can be contained rapidly. Incident and information management focuses on the ability to deploy people, supplies, money and information to locations where they are most effective in protecting health.
Mays said the state’s scores in those areas are buoyed by its experiences with hurricanes. “Practice makes perfect,” he said.
Florida lags the national average in half of the six categories and outperforms the nation in the other half. For example, Mays noted Florida’s lackluster performance in community planning and engagement, which involves developing and maintaining relationships among government agencies, community organizations and households.
Florida scored a 4.8 in the category, below the national average of 5.2.
“That’s foundational to everything else you do to be prepared for disasters,” Mays said. “In that domain, we are measuring how well organizations are communicating and coordinating their activities and if theyare well-positioned to kind of share information and resources to better respond when disasters strike. So it’s really critical stuff.”
The state also lagged behind in two other categories: health-care delivery and countermeasure management.
Health-care delivery focuses on the ability to ensure access to high-quality medical services across the continuum of care during and after disasters and emergencies. Mays said the state’s overall performance in the category was hindered by worse-than-average nursing home performance andmental-health access.
Mays said Florida nursing homes in 2018 had a higher-than-average number of federal citations for failing to comply with emergency preparedness plans. Moreover, he said, “a larger share of the population in the state of Florida is underserved by mental-health professionals. They are very important in helping people, particularly in the aftermath of disasters.”
Countermeasure management evaluates the ability to store and deploy health-related products and supplies that protect people from diseases and injuries. The average score nationwide was 6.5 out of 10. Florida scored 6.1.
Mays said the performance on the measurement also was due to the state’s relatively low vaccination rates for seniors and young children. Though there is growing controversy about vaccines, they are one of the best countermeasures to keep people protected from disease.
“It’s a problem nationally, but it looks like Florida may have a little more of a problem in that area,” Mays told The News Service of Florida.
The score regarding vaccinations came amid an outbreak of hepatitis A. Florida has had a reported 1,037 cases of the liver disease this year, nearly double the amount reported for all of 2018, according to numbers posted on the state Department of Health website.
Hepatitis A can be spread through such things as food or drinks that have been contaminated with fecal matter from people with the disease. Health officials have urged people to get vaccinated against the disease.