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Study: Florida Has Work To Do On Public Health Preparedness

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
U.S. Army
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

As Texas recovers from Hurricane Harvey, Floridians may be wondering how well the state could weather a similar storm.

A study by the Trust For America’s Health scored Florida and other states on 10 indicators of public health preparedness.

Florida was prepared in seven of the categories,  Spokesman Albert Lang said. That sounds pretty good except, he says, the categories where the state didn’t pass were very important.

For example, during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Florida’s spending on public health decreased by 8.2 percent. That decrease in funding affects whether equipment is updated and if employees are properly trained, he said.

“We need to stop waiting for a disaster to strike to look at this issue and then to try to come from behind,” Lang said. “If we don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with public health emergencies we’re just not going to be able to save as many lives once something happens.”

The fact that the state’s funding for public health decreased in the same year that the Zika virus was spreading through South Florida is concerning, he said.

The study also found that less than 50 percent of Florida’s population is vaccinated for the flu. Only 10 states met this standard, but Florida may be at a greater risk because of its elderly population, Lang said.

“That vaccination rate is very important because older people are more vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases," he said.

Florida’s elderly population is also at risk of infections from hospitals and other health care facilities, the study found.

“Those two pared with Florida’s older population would be disconcerting for me if I lived there,” Lang said.

Though the state did meet the standard for climate change readiness, it just barely passed, Lang said. That could change with subsequent studies, he said.

“Obviously Florida being where it is and what we’re seeing with Hurricane Harvey, climate change is something that is going to be a bigger and bigger issue,” Lang said.

Bad weather brings increased risks from diseases, such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya, he said. 

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.