Health

Iowa ranks in middle in handling health emergencies

State needs to improve how organizations work together, study says

Johnson County ambulances are parked outside at the new Johnson County Ambulance Service and Medical Examiner Facility in Iowa City on Thursday, July 13, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Johnson County ambulances are parked outside at the new Johnson County Ambulance Service and Medical Examiner Facility in Iowa City on Thursday, July 13, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A national study says Iowa is mostly prepared to handle an emergency that endangers public health.

However, it also found the state’s preparedness level has decreased in recent years, emphasizing the need for local communities to form better working relationships in the event of emergencies.

The National Health Security Preparedness Index measures states’ ability to prepare and react in the event of disasters, disease outbreaks and other large-scale emergencies.

The 2018 rankings released Tuesday placed Iowa at the national average — a 7.0 score on a 10-point scale. The United States as a whole was rated at 7.1.

“The index takes what’s called an all-hazards view of preparedness, meaning we look at activities and strategies that can be helpful in responding to a variety of events,” said Glen Mays, who leads a team of researchers for the index team at the University of Kentucky.

The study is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and involves the work of more than 20 organizations, according to a news release.

The index analyzes states based on 140 measures — which includes factors like flu vaccine rates and the number of bridges in good condition — and ranks them based on six categories.

The category Iowa ranked highest in was information and incident management, which looks at how people and resources are deployed in response to a health emergency.

Here, the state scored a 9.2, with the national average reaching 8.8.

Iowa’s overall score on the index has climbed 6.1 percent since 2013.

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But while the state has seen its overall score increase in the past five years, “its improvement level has been a little slower than the nation overall,” Mays said.

“In fact, if we go back to 2014, Iowa actually scored significantly above the national average in that period,” he said. “Iowa was among a small number of states that were leading the nation overall. Since that time, Iowa kind of slips back to fall within the national average.”

The category bringing the state down is the measurement of community planning and engagement, which studies how well local organizations — including government agencies and not-for-profits — are engaged in developing relationships in the event of an emergency.

Iowa scored a 3.9 in the category this year, with the nation as a whole averaging at a 6.0.

According to the index, about two-thirds of states saw an increase in their overall scores, but “significant inequities” still remain in preparedness across the nation. Generally, states in the southern and mountain west regions have lower scores than those in the northeast and Pacific coast regions.

The United States, as a whole, had a hard year when it came to health emergencies, including the continuation of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., the hurricanes in the southern parts of the country, and large scale disease outbreaks of the Zika and Ebola viruses.

“Broad brush, I think the most important things is that we’re gaining more experience with these events simply because they are happening more quickly and they are growing in intensity,” Mays said. “So we are learning by doing as a country.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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