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Index shows improvement in Oklahoma health emergency readiness

[Todd Pendleton/The Oklahoman]
[Todd Pendleton/The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma has improved in its readiness to respond to a health emergency, but still has work to do, according to a report issued Wednesday.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released the results of the 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index, which found the nation’s overall preparedness improved slightly over the last year, although deep regional differences remain. The index analyzes 129 measures for each state and the nation — including the percentage of bridges that are in good condition, the prevalence of hazard planning in public schools, the number of paramedics and hospitals — to calculate a composite score.

The annual assessment of America’s day-to-day readiness for managing community health emergencies shows Oklahoma has improved since the first report in 2013. Oklahoma scored 6.5 on a 10-point scale for preparedness, compared to 6.7 for the United States as a whole.

"Overall we're seeing upward momentum in Oklahoma," said Glen Mays, who led the team of researchers at the University of Kentucky in developing the annual index. "But Oklahoma needs to make faster improvement to stay in line with the country."

One area where Oklahoma falls significantly below the national average is health security surveillance, said Mays, director of UK's Center for Public Health Systems & Services Research.

That looks at the ability to monitor and detect health threats, and to identify where hazards start and spread so they can be contained rapidly.

Oklahoma's state public health lab lacks an electronic laboratory management system, which could rapidly share information with hospitals and other labs across the the state, Mays said.

"It's a technology that has become more important. Unfortunately the technology requires resources," he said.

Oklahoma scored the lowest in the area of health care delivery, which measures the ability to ensure access to high-quality medical services across the continuum of care during and after disasters and emergencies.

"It's the domain with the lowest scores nationally and has not seen much progress," Mays said, noting Oklahoma's long-term care facilities were cited for deficiencies in their emergency plans.

In rural areas of the state, delivery is impacted by too few physicians and ambulance response times, Mays said.

"Oklahoma has made pretty striking improvement in incident and information management," he said. That's the ability to deploy health-related people, supplies, money and information to the locations where they are most effective in protecting health.

Mays said one thing that made a difference is the state recently entered the Nurse Licensure Compact, which allows nurses from other states to practice in Oklahoma without having to obtain additional licenses.

Also, the vast majority of local public health agencies have designated an emergency preparedness coordinator.

"That's a place where Oklahoma is leading the nation," Mays said.

K.S. McNutt

Kathryn McNutt covers higher education for The Oklahoman and NewsOK. Since joining the staff in August 2000, she also has worked as the Breaking News editor, Metro editor and assistant Local editor. A native of Oklahoma City, she graduated from... Read more ›