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Serious Gaps Revealed in U.S. Response to Health Emergencies
Date:12/15/2009

If swine flu were worse, 'we would have really been in trouble,' expert says

TUESDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The outbreak of the pandemic H1N1 swine flu has revealed serious flaws in the nation's ability to respond to public health emergencies, a new report says.

The report, prepared by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also finds the dire economy has strained the already underfunded public health system.

"The 2009 H1N1 outbreak is the latest in a series of reminders -- from September 11 to the subsequent anthrax attacks to hurricane Katrina -- that the nation's public health system needs to be ready to respond to a major health crisis," Richard Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, said during a Tuesday morning teleconference.

"The H1N1 flu outbreak vividly exposed serious underlying gaps in the nation's ability to respond to public health emergencies," he said. "On top of that, trying to respond to the pandemic in the middle of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression meant that we were asking public health officials to try to do more with less as budgets, and staff were stretched well beyond their limits."

The United States tends to respond to the crisis of the moment, but fails to commit to fund and enact programs to ensure ongoing public safety, Hamburg said.

"This Band-Aid approach to preparedness needs to change," he added.

According to the report, 20 states scored six or less on 10 indicators of emergency preparedness, and almost two-thirds of the states scored seven or less.

Arkansas, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Vermont scored the highest with nine out of 10. Montana scored the lowest -- three out of 10.

Money spent over the past several years for public health preparedness did improve the nation's ability to meet the challenges of the
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