Improve Hawaii's preparedness for health risks


POSTED: Monday, December 21, 2009

Hawaii is among the nearly two-thirds of states with gaps in the ability to respond to an outbreak of diseases, disasters and bioterrorism, according to a new report. The state should make every effort to achieve objectives in areas where it has fallen short.

The report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that Hawaii was among those states that failed to meet more than seven of 10 indicators of public health emergency preparedness. Seven of 10 is not enough.

“;In the case of a pandemic or infectious disease outbreak, one weak link in the public heath—including providers' reluctance to treat those who are uninsured or underinsured—could result in disaster for everyone,”; commented Richard Hamburg, deputy director of Trust for America's Health.

Not surprisingly, most states—including Hawaii—failed to increase or maintain the level of funding from the 2007-2008 fiscal year to the fiscal year ending last July. Those states experienced cuts because of the recession and federal preparedness funds were reduced by 27 percent since 2005.

Federal and state budget cuts “;continue to have a significant impact on our ability to maintain and grow our emergency preparedness capacities,”; state Health Director Chiyome Fukino told the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn.

That should not prevent the state from submitting weekly information on available hospital beds for at least half the facilities throughout the islands to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the H1N1 response—one of the indicators where Hawaii was deficient.

Nor should it keep the state from having a law or legal opinion in place to limit liability against organizations that provide volunteer help during emergencies. Hawaii is among 32 states and the District of Columbia lacking such a liability limitation, and the Legislature should fill that gap.

Hawaii corrected one deficiency from a year ago by reaching the capacity to assure the timely system of intra-state courier pick-up and delivery of laboratory disease specimens that operates 24 hours a day. Fukino said her department is pleased about its “;accomplishments in the area of public health lab capacity.”;

It should continue to seek improvements in other areas. As Hamburg noted, “;Variation in preparedness means that where people live can determine how well they are protected from health threats.”;