Significant Progress Made in Nationâ€™s Preparedness to Respond to Public Health Emergencies; But Gaps in Critical Areas Threaten Overall Readiness
December 19, 2007 -- BURLINGTON â€“ The Vermont Department of Health achieved a high rating (a score of 9 out of 10 possible points) in the fifth annual Trust for Americaâ€™s Health â€œReady or Not? Protecting the Publicâ€™s Health from Disease, Disasters, and Bioterrorismâ€ report.
The report contains state-by-state scores based on 10 key indicators to assess health emergency preparedness capabilities. Only seven states received a rating of 10 out of 10.
â€œAs a state, we have made great progress in our capacity to prepare and respond,â€ said Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN. â€œThousands of professionals in public health, state government and health care have worked to save and protect lives in the event of a public health emergency, and to be recognized among the nationâ€™s best is good news for Vermont.â€
Vermont was recognized for making significant progress in the past five years. Scores from previous reports, which have had shifting criteria over the years, ranged from a low of 4 out of 10 in 2005, to a previous high of 7 out of 10 in 2004.
A key area of progress cited in the report was Vermontâ€™s ability to quickly move pharmaceuticals, vaccines, antidotes and medical supplies from national and state stockpiles to clinics and hospitals in the event of an emergency such as pandemic flu, an anthrax attack or toxic chemical spill. Vermont was one of the few states in the nation to acheive a â€œgreenâ€ status rating in 2007 from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for its Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) emergency preparedness program.
SNS is a federal asset that augments local supplies with a large, continuous quantity of medications, vaccines, supplies and equipment delivered to the state within 12 hours of an emergency. Vermont's SNS readiness was last fully exercised in July 2006 during the state's two-week avian influenza and pandemic flu exercise that involved two poultry farms, UVM and Southern Vermont College, the Vermont National Guard, most hospitals and hundreds of other responders.
The report also examined if states had purchased their federal allotment of antiviral medications to use during a pandemic flu. The Vermont Department of Health has purchased 80 percent of its allotment as of November 2007.
Some other key measures of readiness that were measured are the capacity to quickly and effectively respond including: laboratory capabilities to test for biological threats; use of a surveillance system compatible with the CDCâ€™s National Electronic Disease Surveillance System; and whether or not a state held emergency preparedness exercises in 2007 with health department officials and the National Guard.
The only area Vermont was not credited was â€œhas laws that extend liability shields to healthcare volunteers in a public emergencyâ€.
â€œVermont does extend liability protection to the volunteer health workers both in declared emergencies and in trainings,â€ Commissioner Moffatt said. â€œWe believe that Vermont should have received a 10 out of 10 rating this year.â€
An effective response involves multiple state agencies and the entire health care community. Key planning and response partners include Vermont Emergency Management, Vermont National Guard and the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
The TFAH report with complete state rankings is available at: www.healthyamericans.org.
For information on emergency preparedness from the Vermont Department of Health, go to: http://healthvermont.gov/e_ready.aspx.