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New York Scores High In Disaster Preparedness

National Health Security Preparedness Index

A newly released study ranks New York above the national average in health emergency preparedness. The study tracked response readiness for tornadoes to terrorism to tuberculosis.

Is New York prepared to handle a major public health crisis?

Glen Mays is a professor of health policy who leads a team of researchers at the University of Kentucky that developed the National Health Security Preparedness Index through various sources:    "Everything from having surveillance capabilities to detect diseases and health risks in the environment early on so we can stop them before they harm lots of people, to looking at the quality of our medical care delivery system. Hospitals, nursing homes, mental health and others to make sure they're ready and prepared to respond to a potential surge in demand for care and also looking at places like schools and worksites and making sure they have plans in place to, they're prepared to respond in the event of an emergency."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual assessment of day-to-day emergency readiness shows the Empire State fares better than the rest of the country:  On a scale of 10, New York scored 6.9, compared with 6.7 for the U.S. as a whole.  "Significantly above the national average. And you're in a region of Northeast states that are kind of leading the nation in a lot of these kinds of health protections, so that's something that New Yorkers can feel good about."

Connecticut also scored 6.9, while Massachusetts led the nation with a score of 7.4, Vermont received 7.2

Hays explains the index measures 129 different areas, from the condition of critical infrastructure to the ability to monitor, detect and identify threats to public health.   "The good news is that we're improving over time as a nation and in New York as well, but we still have a lot of room for improvement, again our national score is 6.7 on a 0-10 scale, so we've got about two-thirds of the protections in place that we might want to have to be maximally prepared. Our weakest area as a nation actually in health care delivery..."  ...the single category New York scored poorly in. Hays offers recommendations for remediation:   "One is to get more health care organizations and providers engaged in preparedness planning and conducting exercises and drills on a collaborative basis, not just one hospital at a time, or one nursing home at a time, it's getting our facilities and professionals networked together in doing these plans and exercises and drills, practicing together. We don't have nearly as much participation in these regional coalitions and networks as we need to. We understand hospitals also have to compete with each other in the market for health care services, but for preparedness we need to collaborate, not compete."

Samantha Penta, an Assistant Professor in the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the University at Albany, suggests using the data as a guideline to see where our attention should be focused.   "One of the things that's highlighted is a general trend of increasing preparedness across the country over the last few years, which is good to see, we want to see that improving, right? But then the other thing is looking at well what is keeping us from improving more and using that to focus our attention on where we should be working next. The real thing to keep in mind with these kinds of indices is less about the accomplishment of achieving a certain number, and really as a guidepost for thinking about how we can continue to make our communities even safer."
Ninety-three percent of 247 emergency physicians responding to a 2018 poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians said their emergency departments are not fully prepared for surge capacity during a disaster.

The New York State Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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