Sep 22, 2011 6:12 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Louisiana and Mississippi got good grades on plans for dealing with public health emergencies and on their public health labs' performance.
For the second year in a row, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave Louisiana's plans for dealing with public health emergencies a perfect score in all 13 categories. Mississippi's scores weren't far back.
The requirements get stricter every year because federal counterterrorism grants pay for the planning and help support the labs, said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, Louisiana's state health officer.
"They've got to go back to Congress and say, `Look at all the things we've achieved, and look who's performing well for the money. They have to ensure the money is being used wisely and that we're continuing to improve," he said.
Only seven other states - California, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia - have made perfect scores for the last two years, said Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Hospitals. He said California and Virginia have done so all three years the CDC has given the ratings.
Mississippi missed that mark by one category in both 2008-09 and 2009-10, according to the report released Tuesday. Each year, it got 92 rather than 100 on security - planning to ensure that shipments of treatments or preventative medicines and the people who transport and administer them are safe.
"The arrival and transport of scarce resources will be newsworthy and may draw attention from persons unwilling to wait for the organized dispensing ... The development of a comprehensive security plan through coordination with law enforcement is essential to maintaining control and order during this period," the CDC wrote.
Jim Craig, Mississippi's director of health protection, said late Wednesday that he was very excited about the report.
"It's indicative of the improvements we've put in place and shows over the last three years what we've been able to do," Craig said.
National averages in the 13 categories ranged from 88 on repackaging bulk medications for public dispensing to 99 on requesting medical supplies from the strategic national stockpile.
"We have a lot of first-hand experience," Guidry said. "This planning has gotten tested because we've had so many disasters."
For instance, he said, if a hurricane strikes, DHH gets medicines and intravenous fluids to stock special-needs shelters for elderly and handicapped residents. To practice mass vaccinations in case of a swine flu outbreak, Louisiana used some of the federal money for planning and drills to set up three-day walk-in clinics to give children the shots they needed to go back to school.
"I like figuring out how to use our funding to go beyond a plan - to actually test it and see if it'll serve the purpose of what the plan is for," Guidry said.
Louisiana received a high of $13.1 million in 2008 in federal funds to $8.6 million this year, Pastorick said.
Mississippi received a high of $12.4 million in 2003 to $6.5 million this year, said Liz Sharlot, the director of communications for the Mississippi State Department of Health.
"We're all very concerned about maintaining the level of preparedness that we've achieved," Craig said. "Public health preparations across the country saw an 11 percent cut in funding this year and we're hopeful there won't be any further reductions so we can continue to maintain and enhance those levels."
Both states' labs passed tests for identifying biological and chemical agents.
Each identified every strain of E. coli it was sent and 16 of 17 chemical agents sent in September, according to the report. Louisiana's lab also correctly identified 10 Listeria bacteria strains it was sent; that germ wasn't sent to Mississippi.
The test samples aren't the dangerous germs and chemicals themselves, but related compounds or germs that need the same tests. For chemicals, a courier brings metabolites - chemicals that would be created when the body breaks down a chemical that could be used for warfare, said Stephen Martin, lab director for the state's public health laboratories in Metairie and Shreveport. Vaccine strains or other non-living strains might substitute for live germs.
Martin said a broken air conditioner kept Louisiana from testing the 17th chemical warfare surrogate it was sent in September 2010. The computerized test equipment works only in a narrow range of temperature and humidity, he said.
"When the temperature in the lab with the instrumentation goes higher than it should, the instrumentation shuts itself down," he said.