Wyoming more prepared for health emergencies, still below national average

By Chrissy Suttles

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — Wyoming is more prepared to address health emergencies than it was in 2013, according to a report released Wednesday, but the state still has work to do.

The 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found Wyoming has gradually improved in several scoring categories, earning a 6.2 out of 10, compared to the nationwide score of 6.7.

The report is an assessment of each state’s ability to manage community health emergencies following the spread of infectious diseases, terrorism and extreme weather conditions. Researchers use secondary data from state, local and national sources to develop the scores.

Wyoming fell below the national average for the sixth consecutive year.

The state improved most along the Index’s Community Planning and Engagement category. This is how well government agencies, community organizations and individual households work together during a crisis. Still, it’s Wyoming lowest health security level.

“We look at things like cross-sector and community collaboration for this,” said Anna Hoover, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and deputy director of the index program. “We might look at what percentage of the state is served by a comprehensive public health system, how many pediatricians there are per capita, or what percentage of children live within 50 miles of a pediatric trauma center.”

The report cites three years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Public Health Systems to reveal less than 40% of Wyoming’s population is served by a “comprehensive” public health system. It also found just 16.2% of children lived within 50 miles of a pediatric trauma center from 2012-17, including out-of-state centers.

Hoover said rural states like Wyoming are often at a disadvantage because resources are fewer and the population is more dispersed. But some states with large population centers still fell below the national average for other reasons.

Wyoming scored highest in its ability to deploy people, supplies, money and information to the right places. Researchers said all local health departments in the state have an emergency preparedness coordinator.

Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Health, said just some of these measures fall within the agency’s purview.

“There is nothing in this report that should be considered a cause for general concern about Wyoming’s ability to be prepared for potential health-related emergencies,” she said. “We believe we have done well with our specific planning, which has been approved with high ratings from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Deti said officials recognize the health challenges facing Wyoming’s low, rural and aging population. This includes emergency response times and in-state availability of certain types of health-care providers.

“National groups that do these kinds of reports can use a variety of measures, and they aren’t always consistent or accurate,” she said. “Sometimes, they get things wrong, such as saying that our Wyoming Public Health Laboratory does not have a Laboratory Information Management System. We do, and have had that for years.”

Hoover agrees that while researchers work diligently to ensure their information is accurate, the collection of secondary data always leaves room for error.

“I would suggest states use this index as a tool to think about how prepared we are to deal with large-scale health threats.” she said. “Thinking about your state’s risk portfolio and looking at the gaps can only benefit communities.”