A new report from the nonprofit Trust For America’s Health says Kansas meets six of 10 measures related to public health threats while Missouri meets five.
The “Ready or Not” report says Kansas and Nebraska are among 17 states, along with the District of Columbia, that meet six indicators. Missouri was among four states that meet only five.
One of the indicators checks whether states have increased — or at least maintained — their spending on public health. Twenty-six states met that standard from fiscal year 2014–2015 to fiscal year 2015–2016. Kansas and North Carolina were the only two states that cut their public health budgets three consecutive years.
Nationally, median public health spending in fiscal year 2016 was $37.20 per person. Kansas spent $12.13 per person for public health. Missouri’s public health budget was only $5.88 per person.
Another measure tracks whether at least half of state residents 6 months and older are vaccinated against seasonal influenza. Kansas fell short, with a 44.4 percent immunization rate, while Missouri fared a little better at 47.4 percent. Only 10 states were at 50 percent or above.
Kansas and Missouri both earned low grades for their preparedness for health and safety threats associated with climate change. Kansas received a grade of D+ and Missouri’s report card was marked F.
Both states also lack formalized plans to get health care workers and supplies into restricted areas during a disaster. The report says many states have disjointed policies for permitting private sector personnel and supplies into disaster sites. This can create delays in health care operations, which can cost lives. Only 10 states met the criteria for this measure.
Kansas met but Missouri failed one other indicator: activities to prevent health care-associated infections. According to the report, about one out of every 25 hospitalized patients will contract an infection at a health care facility. This measure examines whether state health departments have implemented four key activities to prevent these infections.
In all, 26 states and Washington, D.C., scored a six or lower on the 10 indicators. Alaska and Idaho scored lowest at three out of 10, and Massachusetts scored the highest at 10 out of 10, with North Carolina and Washington State scoring nine.
Michelle Ponce, executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, said she shares concerns in the report about the loss of funding, workforce reductions and restrictions that get in the way of public health response in Kansas. Still, she sees a bright side in the state’s public health efforts.
“Despite these challenges, it is important to point out that in the report, Kansas received points for exceeding the national average score on the national health security preparedness index and for having at least one accredited local health department,” she said.
Ponce added that efforts are underway to establish a baseline set of skills, programs and activities at public health programs throughout the state.
“We think it is vital that we evolve our public health system, including the legal and funding frameworks, to strengthen the system in order to respond to emerging public health threats to ensure the health and safety of all Kansans,” she said.
Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.