When the next emergency threatens our health, is New Jersey doing enough to keep us safe?

According to an annual report from the nonprofit Trust for America's Health, New Jersey is better prepared than most other states in the U.S. But there's still room for improvement in several areas.

The report, Ready or Not 2022: Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, measures states' performances on 10 key emergency preparedness indicators. In the end, New Jersey, along with 16 other states and the District of Columbia, ranks in the top tier of states for public health preparedness.

New Jersey improved by one tier since last year's report.

"The primary reason for that is that the state improved in the area of patient safety," said Matt McKillop, senior researcher at Trust for America's Health.

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Forty-three percent of New Jersey's hospitals received the best grade possible in the fall 2021 hospital safety assessment administered by the Leapfrog Group, according to the report. Nationally, just 28% of hospitals earned an "A" grade.

In the 2022 report, New Jersey also helps its score by being one of the dozens of states that participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact, which allows the Garden State to use nurses from other states in the compact without requiring additional licensure.

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Several states have a seasonal flu vaccination rate below 50%, but New Jersey isn't one of them, the report notes. For the 2020-2021 flu season, 55.2% of New Jersey residents aged 6 months and older were vaccinated against influenza.

Like every other state, the report finds, New Jersey has a plan should a sudden 6-to-8-week surge in laboratory-testing capacity be necessary in order to address an outbreak or other public health event. According to the report, New Jersey is one of 30 states where public health funding held stable or increased from Fiscal Year 2020 to Fiscal Year 2021. In New Jersey's case, there was an increase of 4%.

No matter where a state lands in TFAH's report, there's room for improvement, McKillop noted. The main area of concern for the Garden State appears to be water security.

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According to the report, 16% of New Jersey residents used contaminated water systems in 2019.

"This report is really meant to be a service for federal, state and local policymakers who are always looking to protect their residents," McKillop said. "The last two years in particular have taught us the importance of prevention ... so we aren't caught in a flat-footed posture when the emergency comes."

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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