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CDC: Az ready for public health emergencies

State scores high for response plan

PHOENIX — Arizona is prepared to respond to public health emergencies and to identify biological and chemical threats, but it needs to report test results for food-borne bacteria faster, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Will Humble, director of the state Department of Health Services, said he was satisfied with Arizona’s performance in the report, which evaluated all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several metropolitan areas.

“Overall I am pleased with the results of the report, and like always we’ll take this assessment seriously and continue to make program improvements so that we maximize our effectiveness,” Humble said.

The CDC, which helps fund states’ emergency-response strategies, measured how accurately laboratory test results were analyzed and how fast they were sent to a national database. It also looked at how effectively states could manage and distribute medicines from a federal stock in case of an emergency.

Arizona’s emergency–response plan got an overall score of 97 out of a possible 100, well above the passing grade of 79.

Humble said the response to the global H1N1 pandemic, which began in 2009, improved the state’s ability to handle public health emergencies.

“There is nothing quite like the real thing to really show you where your strengths are and where you need to improve,” he said. “So I think there’s no doubt the pandemic did that not just for us but for everybody in the public health system.”

Its overall performance notwithstanding, Arizona didn’t meet CDC requirements for reporting lab test results for food-borne bacteria to a national database within four working days. For the two sets of samples evaluated, the state submitted 80 percent of the results of one and 70 percent of the other on time. The requirement was 90 percent.

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Humble said state health officials identified the bacteria for both samples but weren’t fast enough in submitting the results.

Shoana Anderson, chief of the Office of Infectious Disease Services within the state health department, said a lack of personnel can explain the delay in submitting lab test results.

“It’s something that we are really working on,” Anderson said. “I think all states are really struggling with limited resources and being able to hire people.”

Pete Wertheim, a spokesman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said he was impressed with the state’s performance but wished more personnel were dedicated to public health.

“I believe we are prepared,” Wertheim said. “There is no way to predict what may happen tomorrow or the next day, but I believe Arizona is well-positioned to deal with an outbreak or some type of public health emergency with the plan we have in place.”

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Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble, shown in November 2010, said he was satisfied with Arizona’s performance in the report.

About the report

  • Evaluated: Laboratory capabilities and emergency–response plans for 50 states, the District of Columbia and several metropolitan areas.
  • Threats Assessed: Disease outbreaks, global pandemics, natural disasters, chemical spills, explosions, and biological, chemical or nuclear terrorism.
  • Source: The Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.