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Bioterrorism Preparedness Efforts Strengthen Public Health Capabilities

News Release
July 11, 2006

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON, DC—National initiatives to improve bioterrorism preparedness have strengthened communities’ overall public health readiness, but concerns remain about hospitals’ ability to handle a sudden surge of patients during an emergency, according to a study by Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) researchers published in the July/August edition of the journal Health Affairs.

Key areas strengthened by bioterrorism preparedness efforts at the local level include: upgraded public health infrastructure, such as improved communication networks and expanded lab capacity; better collaboration among providers, health departments and other emergency response agencies; and enhanced readiness planning and assessment of public health threats.

"Most local officials say that the push to improve bioterrorism preparedness has improved overall public health capabilities," said coauthor Aaron Katz, C.P.H., an HSC senior consulting researcher and senior lecturer at the University of Washington. "However, hospitals in nearly all 12 communities studied were concerned about having the capacity to handle a large-scale disaster or epidemic."

While the federal government has dedicated more than $5 billion for public health bioterrorism preparedness efforts since the 2001 terrorist attacks, local officials are concerned about future funding. Federal public health and hospital preparedness funding dropped 3 percent from 2003 to 2005. The reduced funding has been exacerbated in some communities by the redirection of some federal funding to cities projected to be at higher risk of attack, as well as cuts in public health programs in many states.

"The recent federal funding has helped communities enhance public health capacity, but communities are worried that they won’t be able to sustain public health improvements made since 2001 if funding continues to decline," said Andrea B. Staiti, an HSC health research analyst and co-author of the study with Kelly L. McKenzie, also an HSC health research analyst.

The Health Affairs article, titled "Preparing for the Unknown, Responding to the Known: Communities and Public Health Preparedness" is based on HSC’s 2005 site visits to 12 nationally representative communities—Boston; Cleveland; Greenville, S.C.; Indianapolis; Lansing, Mich.; Little Rock, Ark.; Miami; northern New Jersey; Orange County, Calif.; Phoenix; Seattle; and Syracuse, N.Y. HSC has been tracking changes in these markets for the past 10 years.

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is funded principally by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Health Affairs, published by ProjectHOPE, is the leading journal of health policy.



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