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Public Health Preparedness Jeopardized by Budget Cuts

HealthLeaders Media Staff, December 20, 2010

In the eighth annual Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism report, 14 states scored 9 or higher (out of 10) on 10 key indicators of public health preparedness. Three states (Arkansas, North Dakota, and Washington) scored 10. Another 25 states and Washington, D.C., scored 7 or 8. The two lowest, Iowa and Montana, each scored a 5.

Since Sept. 11, 2001 and the anthrax attacks that followed it, the nation is better poised to prevent, identify and contain disease outbreak and bioterrorism threats; responses are also quicker to natural disasters and outbreaks, the report notes. However, these gains are jeopardized by severe budget cuts by federal, state, and local governments, according to the report released by two nonprofit organizations, the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,

The recession–and the attendant dwindling coffers--has led to cuts in public health staffing and eroded the basic capabilities of state and local health departments, according to the report. For example, 33 states and Washington, D.C., cut public health funding from fiscal years 2008-09 to 2009-10, with 18 of those 33 cutting funding for the second year in a row.

In addition to state cuts, federal support for public health preparedness has been cut by 27 percent since FY 2005 (adjusted for inflation). Local public health departments report losing 23,000 jobs--totaling 15 percent of the local public health workforce--since January 2008. Funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and response efforts related to the H1N1 pandemic blunted the impact of public health cuts–until recently.

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