Local News

Study: N.C. Has Room To Improve In Health Emergency Preparedness

Posted December 12, 2005

— Is North Carolina prepared for a major health emergency? In a new national report, the state scored as well or better than most states, but there is room for improvement.

"Public health needs to be a higher priority in North Carolina if you're going to keep all the citizens safe from bioterrorism, a pandemic flu outbreak, or more hurricanes hitting the state," said Shelley Hearne, of Trust for America's Health.

The non-profit organization scored Virginia and South Carolina, among the best prepared, scoring 8 out of 10.

North Carolina has the labs and scientists to handle biological threats, but the state does not meet the standard for responding to a chemical terrorist attack. The report said the state is not well prepared for a pandemic flu outbreak.

"We need to develop a mechanism for the federal, state and local health infrastructure to manage the supplies of antivirals or vaccines or other medications that may be in limited supply so that we can get them to high priority populations," said state Health Director Dr. Leah Devlin.

Last month, Devlin unveiled N-CHESS, a hospital emergency surveillance system. The system is designed to catch disease outbreaks in real time, when clusters of symptoms first appear. However, the state did not get credit for that on the report.

When it comes to reporting confirmed disease outbreaks, not just from hospital emergency rooms, it is still done manually in North Carolina. Twenty-seven other states have systems to collect and monitor such data over the Internet. North Carolina has plans for such a Web-based system next year.

Only two states have a plan to ensure health care workers show up for duty during a major disease outbreak. Only seven states meet the federal standard of preparedness to draw from the strategic national stockpile of vaccines, antidotes and medical supplies.

Those are areas for improvement in North Carolina, but Devlin said there has been progress.

"The question is, 'Are we ready and the response to that is we are more ready than we have ever been before?'" Devlin said.

In the same report, 20 leading health experts graded the federal government's emergency readiness and gave them a D-plus.

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