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December 19. 2012 9:29PM

State ranks in middle for public health preparation

CONCORD - New Hampshire ranks in the middle of the pack among U.S. states when it comes to public health preparedness improvements made since 9/11, according to a report released Wednesday.

In the nonprofit organization Trust for America's Health report "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism 2012", New Hampshire achieved a score of 7 out of a possible 10 points. The report ranks all 50 states and Washington, D.C., on the basis of public health preparedness improvements made since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The highest score received by any state this year was an 8.

"Our score as a state of 7 out of 10 points shows that in some areas of preparedness we are very successful, but there is certainly room for improvement," said Dr. Jose Montero, director of public health for the state's Department of Health and Human Services. "We can do better, and we must do better."

The states were scored yes or no on 10 areas of preparedness: increased or maintained public health funding in the past year; notified and assembled public health staff to ensure quick response to an incident; met a goal of vaccinating 90 percent of 19- to 35-month-olds against whooping cough; require Medicaid coverage of flu vaccines with no copay for people under 65; have completed a climate change adaptation plan; mandate that all child-care facilities in the state have a multi-hazard written emergency plan; are accredited by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program; the state participates in the Nurse Licensure Compact; the state's public health lab has enough staff to operate five 12-hour days for six to eight weeks in response to an outbreak; and that the state lab reports increasing or maintaining laboratory response network-chemical capability.

The state scored well in response readiness, infectious disease control, community resiliency and preparedness for extreme weather events categories. One area where improvements could be made were vaccinations and immunizations.

"One of the more interesting pieces to come out of this report are the whooping cough vaccine statistics," said Montero. "We do a very good job getting children to receive the first three doses, something like 95 percent. For the fourth dose, it drops to 86 percent. We are losing parents, who aren't taking children to get the final dose. We need to do a better job of stressing the importance of completing the cycle."

In the report, Kansas and Montana scored lowest - three out of 10 - and Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont (the highest scoring state in the Northeast) and Wisconsin scored highest, eight out of 10. Among the remaining New England states, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine all received scores of 6 points, while Rhode Island received a 5.

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Paul Feely may be reached at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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