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Utah gets average score on preparedness

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A rocky economy has put America's emergency preparedness in jeopardy, according to a report that gives Utah seven out of 10 points for its efforts.

The sixth annual "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism" gave five states a perfect score: Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin. Utah's seven was average.

The report is prepared each year by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation using public health data.

Utah lost one point because it has not purchased at least half of its share of federally subsidized antiviral medications to be used to slow a flu pandemic. It also is not one of the 26 states whose public health labs have a round-the-clock intrastate courier system for specimen pick-up and delivery.

The final point it lost was for not having a disease surveillance system that's compatible with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national system. Utah's system will go online in January, but it was too late to give the state a point in this report, said Paul Patrick, director of emergency medical services and preparedness for Utah.

Each year, the measures change somewhat, and this year five of the indicators are new. "We scored four out of those five," said Patrick, "so we think we're on the right track."

While states have been making "steady progress" toward improved public health preparedness, it has been undermined and threatened by cuts to emergency and federal funding and planned cuts by states, said Jeff Levi, executive director of the trust. That's a concern in Utah, "definitely," said Patrick. "But we're also proud and pleased with what we've all accomplished" for preparedness.

The report calls for enhancing "surge capacity" to deal with a public health crisis, getting the public more involved in planning, modernizing technology, restoring funding levels and making preparedness part of any health care reform.

The entire report is online at www.healthyamericans .org.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com