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State improves in preparing for health emergencies

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(Submitted Graphic)

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New Mexico has improved when it comes to being prepared to respond to widespread health emergencies due to terrorism, natural disasters or epidemics, but it still ranks slightly below the national average and well below the recommended health security rating.

“An area where New Mexico is kind of leading the nation, above the national average, is in the environmental and occupational health domain,” said Glen Mays, a professor and researcher with the University of Kentucky School of Public Health, which conducts the research and compiles the report. “You have strong practices in place to monitor for health hazards in the environment, in the air and the water and the soil. It looks like New Mexico has built some strong capabilities for testing of threats in the environment. The state has a climate change adaptation plan, which is great to see.”

Mays said the sixth annual National Health Security Preparedness Index, due out early today from the funding organization, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of Princeton, New Jersey, is meant to give legislators, public health officials, health agencies and policy makers a means to determine how best to improve systems, legislation, training, funding and policy to respond to emergencies.

The index measures each state according to standards originally developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For 2019, New Mexico scored an overall 6.3 on the 10-point scale, compared to the 6.7 rating for the United States as a whole. Researchers say the recommended health security rating is 9.0 and predict that it will take 10 years for the United States to reach that level if it continues to progress as it has during the past annual assessments.

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New Mexico showed progress in all six domains measured, as shown in the accompanying chart. It also was above the national average in three categories, for health security surveillance (the ability to detect and monitor threats), incident and information management (the ability to deploy people and resources where needed) and environmental and occupational health (the ability to keep water and food safe, test for contaminants and keep workers and emergency responders safe.)

But the state fell significantly below the national rating in three categories related to delivering medical services to the public.

“There we are measuring the capabilities of the health care delivery systems, physicians, hospitals and the kinds of facilities and workforce you have in place to provide medical treatment in the case of disasters or emergency events,” Mays said, which he added is not uncommon for rural areas.

He said one statistic measuring delivery includes that about 34 percent of New Mexico’s population lives within 50 miles of a trauma center, while the national average is 92 percent of the population.

He said his top recommendation for New Mexico would be to improve community planning and engagement.

“There we are measuring basically the strength of communication and coordination relationships across agencies that need to play a role, from public health to health care to emergency management and first responders,” he said. “It doesn’t require necessarily a lot of money or resources to build. It requires some strong leadership and some dedicated effort.”

The report analyzes 129 different measures of health preparedness gathered from more than 60 sources. The report and data are scheduled to be available online today at nhspi.org.

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