Report: W.Va. is Prepared for Public Health Emergencies

Apr 20, 2017

West Virginia is prepared for public health emergencies. That’s according to a report out Thursday.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says in the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index, West Virginia scored 6.7 out of 10 in the state’s capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from health risk emergencies. That’s about the national average for preparedness.

Glen Mays is a professor of Health Policy at the University of Kentucky, and he’s been involved in the preparedness index over the past two years. He says West Virginia has been making big improvements – mostly in Community Planning and Engagement for a public health crisis.

“There we measure the strength of communication relationships and coordination mechanisms between government and private sector and community organizations that need to play a role in health security,” Mays said.

He says the June 2016 floods that killed 23 people and left thousands homeless may have caused this sharp uptick in health security preparedness in West Virginia.

But where the state still struggles to keep up with the rest of the nation is in the areas of Health Security Surveillance, being able to detect health hazards quickly, and in Incident and Information Management, or the ability to respond rapidly to crises.

Mays says this is due, in part, to the state’s rural geography, and he says both of those areas require specific resources and state-of-the-art technology.

“West Virginia may need to take a look at its existing technology and infrastructure and see whether there’s some unmet needs there," he noted, "There may be investments that need to be made and upgrading technology and systems to support those kind of activities.”

By having its strong foundation in Community Planning and Engagement, however, Mays says the state is on the right track for further improvement.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.