Report: Gaps Boost Outbreak Risks

Dec 17, 2013

Shrinking public health budgets in Florida and other states are making it harder to protect and control potential infectious outbreaks, according to a new report.

Florida scored five of 10 possible points on the Trust for America’s Health report released this morning. Georgia, Nebraska and New Jersey received the lowest score: two out of 10. New Hampshire was the top scoring state, earning points for eight of the 10 criteria.

A total of 35 states scored 5 or lower, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health. And just 17 states have maintained or increased spending on public health services the past two fiscal years, he said.

“We need to make sure the American people understand the ongoing threat and that we keep the systems in place, whether that’s relatively tough vaccination requirements, or whether it’s really strong surveillance systems so we can identify outbreaks quickly and respond well," he said. "All those pieces need to be in place on a constant basis. We can’t always be playing catch up. That’s how you lose lives and how diseases get out.”

In Florida, the state earned points for requiring hospitals to report healthcare-associated infections as well as its ability to handle a surge in laboratory testing in the event of a disease outbreak.

However, Florida did see its public health services funding shrink in the past two fiscal years. The Florida Department of Health operating budget has decreased every year since 2009, from $3 million to $2.8 million, records show.

Agency spokeswoman Sheri Hutchinson said transitioning its data collection from paper to electronic form has helped improve efficiencies, despite decreased budgets.

“The Department currently receives more than 3.9 million laboratory results annually of which 69% or 2.7 million are received electronically,” Hutchinson said in an email. “The Department has also gained direct access to Emergency Department trend data and can monitor, in real time, for spikes in visits that may signify an outbreak.”

--Health News Florida is part of WUSF Public Media. Contact Mary Shedden at 813-974-8636 (desk) or e-mail at shedden@wusf.org. For more health news, visit HealthNewsFlorida.org.