Critical Problems Found with Georgia Public Health System

Recent reports have cast serious doubts about the state of Georgia's ability to manage a public health crisis. Out of all 50 states, Georgia has the nation’s 9th highest economic output. But according to a recent study, the state ranks only 39th in health spending per citizen.

A different federal study, published in January and designed to track pandemic preparedness, ranks Georgia tied for sixth-worst among 56 states and U.S. territories, with territories like Guam and American Samoa beating the state in readiness to deal with major disease outbreaks.

A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution story brought the rankings – which raise doubts about Georgia’s preparedness when it comes to epidemics like swine flu, food borne illness, or bioterrorism – to light.

Other grim findings include the fact that Georgians are more likely than residents of most other states to suffer from communicable and chronic diseases. These diseases include AIDS, syphilis, tuberculosis, and diabetes. And this all takes place in the state that houses the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the world’s premier public health agency.

Public health problems such as the salmonella poisoning outbreak originating from the Peanut Corporation plant in Blakely, Georgia have recently brought attention to the problem, but it was the impending swine flu (or H1N1) epidemic, that really brought home Georgia’s challenges when it comes to emergency health preparedness.

According to the AJC, back in January – three months before swine flu was even on the radar – the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gave the White House a report about whether states were ready for a disease of pandemic proportions. The report evaluated states and territories on their preparedness in 28 key areas, such as maintaining the food supply, distributing vaccines and keeping transportation systems running. While most states had an average of 9.2 “inadequate” ratings in the report, Georgia had a whopping 16.

According to the report, Georgia does not have the infrastructure in place to manage the large numbers of fatalities that a pandemic could cause. It also does not have adequate plans to keep government facilities running or protect public employees. And as for providing public health care to those affected? Georgia simply isn’t ready.

Of course, though it was a federal study that reported these findings, health care preparedness is largely up to states. There is no federal standard for health care and very little that federal government agencies can mandate to make sure that Georgia’s health care system is up to snuff. In this year’s legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly cut the budget for epidemiology by ¼ and eliminated three epidemiology jobs and three emergency preparedness positions.

For more on Georgia’s lack of emergency preparedness, please read the whole story, which was featured in this weekend’s AJC.

As a Georgian, what do you think about the state’s low rankings when it comes to emergency preparedness? We would love to hear your opinion in the comments.