Report card: Mich. gets 3/10 in health emergency prep

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Michigan has implemented just three of 10 key measures needed to be prepared for public health emergencies, according to a report card released Tuesday by Trust for America’s Health, a Washington D.C.-based health policy nonprofit.

The report, “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism,” examined how well the nation and states are prepared for public health threats like the Zika virus, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the ongoing California wild fires.

No state achieved a perfect score on the assessment, and only Rhode Island and Massachusetts got a grade of nine out of 10. Twenty-five states scored five or lower on the assessment. Michigan was among 10 states that scored three. Alaska came in last with score of two.

The report, funded partly by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded the country doesn’t invest enough funding in health security readiness, and as a result, “is in a continued state of inefficiently reacting with federal emergency supplemental funding packages each time a disaster strikes.”

At a press conference Tuesday, John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, said federal funding to maintain a base level of preparedness, and to support state and local health care capabilities, has been cut by more than half since 2002.

Auerbach noted that public health departments are dealing with “hosts of challenges” including the opioid epidemic, related increases in HIV and hepatitis C, food-borne illness outbreaks, resurgences in some areas of measles, mumps and whooping cough, and the Zika virus.

“What we keep seeing, however, is despite the frequency of health threats the nation has done an inconsistent approach to preparing for them,” Auerbach said.

Michigan won a point on the assessment for increasing the state’s overall score on the National Health Security Preparedness Index between 2015 and 2016. The index includes 130 measures of health security and preparedness and was originally developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and and Prevention (CDC).

The Michigan State Laboratory won two additional points for having a biosafety expert on staff, and for providing biosafety training to local health departments and agencies.

The state lost points on seven measures, including failing to have at least half the population, ages six months and older, vaccinated against the flu, and for not passing a paid sick leave law.

Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Michigan has made significant progress in protecting public health with the resources that are available.

“Overall, the report found that the country does not invest enough to maintain strong, basic core capabilities for health security readiness,” Minicuci said. “Even so, here in Michigan, we’re proud that we’ve made significant progress in protecting the citizens of Michigan and improving the health of our communities over the past few decades with the resources that are available to us.

“For example, our state laboratory has a dedicated role and many training courses are readily available to meet or exceed biosafety standards. We also consistently increase our overall preparedness scores in the National Health Security Preparedness Index. While additional resources could assist in addressing challenges that remain in public health emergency preparedness, Michigan remains dedicated to continuing our progress using the resources available to us.”