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Washington well-prepared for major medical care emergencies and detecting emerging diseases

Washington is well-equipped to detect emerging diseases, deliver medical supplies and coordinate a health response to an emergency, according to a federal index of state emergency preparedness released last week.

The index, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and now funded and managed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, assesses how well the health system in each state could respond to a disaster.

For 2017, Washington was on par with the rest of the nation, with a score of 7.2 out of 10. The national average was 7.1, up from 6.4 in 2013, the first year it was measured.

Idaho scored a 6.7, improving from 6.4 in 2016, but still putting it below the national average.

Why measure health preparedness? The obvious reason is that disasters can send a lot of people to hospitals within a short period of time, whether it’s hundreds of burn victims or dozens of people with gunshot wounds.

But even when that doesn’t happen, disasters disrupt medical care and supplies by knocking out power or forcing evacuations. That prevents people from getting to pharmacies for needed medications or clinics for dialysis treatment.

Because of that, the most important thing for health care providers to do during a disaster is “stay in business,” said Michael Loehr, the chief of emergency preparedness and response for the Washington Department of Health.

“The number one thing we want hospitals to do is treat patients,” he said. The best way to prepare for that is by working across a broad group of providers and agencies, he said.

“If you try to go it alone, you’re absolutely destined to fail,” Loehr said.

The index was created as part of a federal effort to improve emergency response after Hurricane Katrina, said Anna Wood, a researcher at the University of Kentucky and the deputy director of the preparedness index. Before then, most federal planning for health emergencies was focused on responding to bioterrorism.

“The capabilities and the resources that had been invested in bioterrorism were not necessarily as transferable to a natural disaster as folks would like it to be,” Hoover said.


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