Report: NJ Not Doing Enough to Stop Diseases [AUDIO]
A new study released by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gives New Jersey a score of only two out of 10, the worst in the United States, for its policies and capabilities to protect against infectious disease threats.
The Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Disease report finds that the ability of most states to prevent and control outbreaks is suffering.
Thirty-four states scored a five or lower out of 10 key indicators in the report. Two states, Georgia and Nebraska, tied New Jersey for the lowest score.
"New Jersey is certainly more advanced than it used to be when it comes to monitoring and having protocols in place to stop the spread of disease; however the advances are hampered at times by outdated systems and limited resources," said Rich Hamburg, deputy director of Trust for America's Health.
The NJ Department of Health, however, maintains that the report doesn't give the state enough credit for the way it's handled public health emergencies in the past.
"There are serious issues with the determinations that reflect on the report. For example, Medicaid does provide coverage for HIV testing," the DOH said in a statement.
The DOH specifically cites it's response during Super Storm Sandy as a situation during which New Jersey's experience was evident.
"NJ did not receive credit for effectively using its continuity of operations plan during Super Storm Sandy and later exercising the plan with New York State in February 2013," the DOH said. "Our lab surge capacity has been tested many times including the anthrax attacks, the fungal meningitis outbreak in 2012 and H1N1 in 2009-2010."
Hamburg also said the Garden State has cut funding for public health over the past few years -- and we're not up to date on our shots, either.
In addition, the report states that New Jersey is over-prescribing antibiotics. Hamburg said this raises the threat of so-called superbugs that are resistant to treatment. A significant number of state residents are also not being checked for diseases even though they are in desperate need of screenings.
Currently, New Jersey does require educational fact sheets about HPV to be distributed to parents, according to the DOH. The Department has been distributing this information since 2007 and it is on the department’s website.
This report just tries to provide a snapshot, it's meant to call attention to a problem like the expansion of some of these infectious diseases," Hamburg said. "The real worry is, every couple of decades we're going to see a potentially major pandemic. We need to make sure we're adequately funding an expert workforce and that we're giving them all the tools that they need; we need to begin to take steps from an educational standpoint and from a legislative standpoint to counter antibiotic resistance, and prioritize research and development of medical counter-measures."
The Department of Health said with each emergency situation, health officials gain the knowledge and experience that will help them better respond to future situations.
"Preparedness is a moving target," the DOH said. "We learn from each public health emergency and strengthen our ability to respond to the next emergency."