Alabama is improving its ability to respond to health emergencies and meets the overall national average in preparedness, according to a new report.
The report also cites areas that need improvement.
The fifth annual National Health Security Preparedness Index was released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
It measures states on their capacity to respond to disease outbreaks, severe weather, terrorism and other emergencies that threaten lives and health.
Alabama scored a 7.1 on a 10-point scale, equaling the national average.
Two-thirds of states showed improvement, although significant gaps remained between states and regions, the report said.
Researchers use 140 factors to compile state scores. Examples include the number of bridges that are in good or fair condition, the number of pediatricians and flu vaccination rates.
Alabama showed the greatest improvement in the category called “environmental and occupational health,” increasing its score from 4.9 in 2013 to 6.7 this year, just above the national average.
Glen Mays, who leads a research team at the University of Kentucky that develops the index, said factors in that higher score include improvements in laboratory testing for wastewater hazards and in testing and monitoring the food supply for potential hazards. Mays said community drinking water systems in Alabama are doing a better job of meeting federal clean water standards.
“All three of those things –laboratory testing of wastewater, laboratory testing of food hazards and drinking water system compliance with federal standards — all of those have improved,” Mays said.
Mays said one category where Alabama has room for improvement is in “community planning and engagement.” The state’s score was 5.7, while the national average was 6.0.
“Even though in this category Alabama is still pretty close to the national average it is a little bit behind overall. And this is an area where we’re measuring basically the strength of relationships that exist among public health and medical care and other community organizations that need to play a role in planning for and responding to emergencies,” Mays said.
Alabama’s improvement and overall rating puts it ahead of some neighboring states, Mays said. There are clusters of states in the deep South, southwest and mountain west that fall significantly below the national average, he said.
“Some of the states that are having trouble in health security seem to be falling further behind. So that’s a trend we need to continue to pay attention to,” Mays said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally developed the National Health Security Preparedness Index. Mays said the CDC later signed an agreement with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fund the report because the index was, to some extent, an evaluation of the CDC’s own work.
The index is now a collaboration involving more than 30 organizations, according to a press release from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.
Here’s how Alabama scored in the six categories:
Health security surveillance, the ability to monitor and detect health threats, and to identify where hazards start and spread so that they can be contained rapidly: 8.4, up from 7.0 in 2013; national average was 8.1.
Community planning and engagement, the ability to develop and maintain supportive relationships among government agencies, community organizations and individual households: 5.7, up from 4.7 in 2013; national average was 6.0.
Information and incident management, the ability to deploy people, supplies, money and information to the locations where they are most effective in protecting health: 8.5, up from 7.3 in 2013; national average was 8.8.
Healthcare delivery, the ability to ensure access to high-quality medical services across the continuum of care during and after disasters and emergencies: 5.4, up from 5.2 in 2013; national average was 5.2.
Countermeasure management, the ability to store and deploy medical and pharmaceutical products that prevent and treat hazardous substance effects and infectious diseases: 7.7, up from 7.6 in 2013; national average was 7.7.
Environmental and occupational health, the ability to maintain the security and safety of water and food supplies, to test for hazards and contaminants in the environment, and to protect workers and emergency responders 6.7, up from 4.9 in 2013; national average was 6.6.