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Economic Crisis Could Delay US Preparedness Plans

December 9, 2008

The current economic crisis could further weaken the United State’s preparedness for a major disaster, according to health experts on Tuesday.

In response to the sluggish economy, preparedness funding on all levels have been cut more than 25 percent compared to budgets in 2005.

“The economic crisis could result in a serious rollback of the progress we’ve made since September 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina to better prepare the nation for emergencies,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of non-profit Trust for America’s Health.

“The 25 percent cut in federal support to protect Americans from diseases, disasters, and bioterrorism is already hurting state response capabilities,” he added.

The report was released by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on Tuesday.

“States will be hard-pressed to take on these new and expanded roles and responsibilities,” said Levi.

Hospitals still haven’t fully addressed the issue of increasing their surge capacity, which allows them to quickly expand space and staff to deal with a massive influx of injured patients.

Authors of the new report found a need for drastic increases in funding for public health institutions.

“We all have a stake in strengthening America’s public health system, because it is our first line of defense against health emergencies,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The joint report from the two non-profit groups found that 11 states and Washington, D.C., cut their public health budgets in the past year.

Sixteen states have bought less than half their share of antiviral drugs under a federal subsidy plan aimed at building stockpiles of the drugs in case of an influenza pandemic, according to the report.

The food-safety system is antiquated and has not been upgraded in more than 100 years, the report found. The result has been a series of emergencies with little response until after the fact — such as an outbreak of Salmonella food poisoning this year that sickened at least 1,400 people in the United States before it was traced to peppers from Mexico.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials said the report fit in with its own survey of local health departments.

“Nationally, 27 percent of local health departments are working under a current budget that is less than the previous year and 44 percent expect to do the same next year,” the group said in a statement.

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