KHI News Service

Brownback says state’s low public health preparedness ranking too harsh

Governor and state health officials say report paints inaccurate picture of state’s readiness

By Jim McLean | December 21, 2012

Gov. Sam Brownback

View larger photo

Kansas officials are taking issue with a recent report that ranked the state last in the nation for public health preparedness.

The Ready or Not report by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, listed Kansas and Montana as the worst performing states in the nation, with each meeting only three out of 10 readiness criteria.

That means that Kansas is significantly less well prepared than other states to respond to health threats such as foodborne illnesses, infectious diseases, bio-terrorism and extreme weather events.

Gov. Sam Brownback and members of his administration pushed back after taking a day to study the report.

“The report does not provide an accurate and thorough picture of the state’s readiness to respond to health emergencies, disasters and terrorism,” Brownback said in a prepared statement.

Dr. Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said changing indicators have caused Kansas’ score to fluctuate significantly since 2006. One year, he said, the state met nine of 10 criteria.

“No matter the score, the report presents a skewed view of public health readiness, draws inaccurate conclusions and in no way indicates the actual preparedness level in Kansas,” Moser said in the statement issued by the governor’s office.

Factors that led to Kansas’ low ranking included funding cuts in state and local public health programs, insufficient staffing at the state’s public health laboratory and the state’s inability to meet preparedness standards set by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program.

The report said that in recent years the nation and states have regressed after spending much of the last decade steadily improving their ability to respond to public health emergencies.

“The bad news is that the accomplishments achieved over the past decade to improve public health preparedness for all hazards are now being undermined due to sever budget cuts and lack of prioritization,” the report said.

The report said that instead of building on progress made early in the decade, “the progress of the past 10 years is now at risk.”

Kansas is one of 29 states listed in the report that has decreased public health funding since the 2010 budget year, reducing it by 6 percent. Kansas was one of only three states that did not respond to requests to verify or correct the budget information contained in the report. Minnesota and South Dakota were the others.

Even so, Moser addressed the funding issue in the administration’s public response to the report, saying that some of the budget reductions were the result of federal formulas that provide less to rural states. He also took issue with the report not crediting Kansas for its efforts to gain accreditation. Moser said the state expected to meet the criteria set forth by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program in 2013, noting that it had already met 101 of 104 requirements.

The state’s failure to vaccinate 90 percent of 19 to 35 month olds against whooping cough also contributed to its low ranking. But Moser said the all-or-nothing scoring system obscured the fact that Kansas achieved an 87.6 rate, falling just 2.4 percent short of the goal.

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy-making environment. All News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution, including a link back to when a story is reposted online. An automatically updated feed of headlines and more from KHI can be included on your website using the KHI widget. More about the News Service at or contact us at (785) 233-5443.