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Report Finds Kentucky's Overall Disaster Preparedness Is Average

map health
Erica Peterson

When it comes to preparing for disasters and emergencies, Kentucky is in line with the national average. That’s according to a new report on emergency and disaster preparedness.

The annual National Health Security Preparedness Index, developed by University of Kentucky researchers and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, analyzes states’ progress in preparing for disease outbreaks, disasters and other emergencies.  

The latest index analyzed 129 different measures during 2018, including overall preparedness, community planning and engagement, health care delivery, and health security surveillance.

Glen Mays, a health policy professor at the University of Kentucky, said Kentucky’s report is mixed. He said while Kentucky had ranked on par or better in previous years, other states have improved since then.

“Since 2016 or so the rest of the country has been making faster improvements than we've seen in Kentucky and so we've fallen now kind of behind that the nation overall in some of these measures,” Mays said.

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Spokesman Doug Hogan wrote in an email that the state values the report as a way to gauge performance compared to a national benchmark and,  “continue to improve our preparedness efforts.”

“However, one challenge to this index is ensuring that it captures and reflects accurate information,” Hogan wrote.

For instance, the state received a negative mark for not having a state laboratory that  performs human specimen testing for chemical agents. Instead, the state collects and transfers those kind of samples to nearby higher-level labs, and is part of the nationwide chemical lab response network.  

Kentucky received high marks in a number of areas including:   

  • 96 percent of home health visits where patients’ care began in a timely manner
  • 66.9 percent of people over age 65 received a seasonal flu vaccination
  • The state tests for 16 different organisms or toxins that are involved with foodborne disease outbreaks
  • There are 103.3 emergency medical technicians and paramedics per 100,000 Kentuckians, about the national average
  • Kentucky is able to test for 10 infectious diseases, including measles, mumps, and hepatitis C
  • 95 percent of e. coli‐positive tests were submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within a quick time frame.

But Kentucky also scored below the national average and received low marks on several measures, including:  

  • 77.1 percent of Kentucky’s children live within 50 miles of a pediatric trauma center, below the national average.
  • There are 18.9 obstetricians and gynecologists per 100,000 female residents, below the national average.
  • 43.8 percent of hospitals in the state provide geriatric services, below the national average.
  • 71 percent of children between ages 19 - 35 months received recommended childhood vaccinations, about the national average.

The state also received low marks for not having a laboratory capable of detecting chemical threats.

There are three different levels of labs within the nationwide network. The highest level labs — 10 total in the U.S. — have the ability to test human tissue for signs of chemicals that could be used in a terrorist attack.

Scott Becker, executive director at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said for state like Kentucky with level one labs,  it simply means that there’s less risk in that state and that there’s a lab in nearby state with a high-level lab.

“There are some jurisdictions in the country that are very high risk, and they would need to have the capability of doing this laboratory work, right then and there,” Becker said. “There are other instances where it is perfectly acceptable to send a specimen on to another laboratory that does it. Because we're all part of the same system.”


Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.