In 2014, Emory University Hospital took in the nation’s first two patients infected with the Ebola virus, and it cured them in an isolation unit that officials had been preparing for a decade. Here, the second patient, Nancy Writebol, was wheeled in to the hospital. Georgia has some of the nation’s most important public health institutions, but as a state, it ranks as average in public health security and preparedness in a recent study. (PHOTO: MANDATORY CREDIT / JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Study: Georgia barely meets national average for outbreak preparedness

Georgia is the home of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the hospital that cured the nation’s first Ebola patient and the world’s busiest airport. It, however, barely meets the national average for health security and preparedness, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

On a scale of 10, Georgia scored 6.6, compared with 6.7 for the U.S. as a whole.

The state’s scores point to an ability to roust health resources for deployment but a weakness compared with others in simply remaining prepared statewide.

Georgia’s biggest strength, a 9 out of 10 and better than the national average, was in incident and information management, meaning the ability to deploy people, supplies, money and information to important locations.

The state’s biggest weakness speaks to the profusion of county governments and local fiefdoms. It was in community planning and engagement, meaning the ability to develop and maintain supportive relationships among government agencies, community organizations and individual households. In that category, the state scored 4.9 against a national average of 5.2.

The state’s biggest deficiency against the national average was in the ability to store and deploy health-related products and supplies that protect people from diseases and injuries. Georgia’s score was 5.9. The national average was 6.5.

Among the dozens of individual issues measured, the state’s worst was a 2.1 in management of volunteers, citing especially the scarcity of physicians to volunteer.

Georgia’s average score still is a big improvement over 2013, when the state fell well behind most states. Overall, the nation is improving.

“We are seeing some promising national numbers when it comes to our nation’s ability to cope with health emergencies,” said Alonzo Plough, the chief science officer at the foundation, which released the report developed by researchers at the University of Kentucky. Plough said states must keep improving to deal with the health fallout from increasingly frequent disasters including hurricanes.

“The overall progress is commendable,” said Glen Mays, who leads the University of Kentucky team of researchers. “But we need to accelerate the pace of improvement and help all regions get stronger. The frequency and intensity of disasters is increasing, and we are all at risk.”

The report, called the National Health Security Preparedness Index, measures preparedness for emergencies including incidents of violence, disease outbreak and extreme weather. It looks at scores of measures, including the infrastructure for moving supplies and workers around, such as bridges, as well as health expertise and communications.

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