Report: Economy threatens emergency health preparedness funds

Major improvements in public health emergency preparedness over the past decade are threatened by severe budget cuts as a result of the recession, according to a report released Tuesday.

Public health agencies over the past 10 years have improved how they prevent, identify and contain disease outbreaks and bioterrorism threats, as well as their response to natural disasters, according to the Trust for America's Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report.

However, 33 states and Washington, D.C., cut public health funding between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010, with 18 of those cutting funding for the second-straight year, the report said. In January, 53 percent of local health departments reported their main funding had been cut from the previous year, and 47 percent anticipate cuts in the coming year.

Meanwhile, federal money for public health preparedness has taken a 27 percent hit (when adjusted for inflation) since fiscal 2005. 

Local public health departments have lost 15 percent of their workforce since January 2008. The recession’s impact has just recently hit the public health workforce because funding to support the H1N1 pandemic flu response has almost been entirely used, the report said.

Despite progress made since 9/11, the anthrax scare and Hurricane Katrina, the report identified a number of gaps in emergency health preparedness. These include gaps in funding and infrastructure; how quickly states collect and report data; a shortage of public health workers; research and development of vaccines and medications; and the ability to handle a surge in those requiring care and to identify and service the most vulnerable Americans.