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State Gets High Marks for Emergency Health Preparedness

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The seventh annual Ready or Not? Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism report, released today by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), found that the H1N1 flu outbreak has exposed serious underlying gaps in the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies and that the economic crisis is straining an already fragile public health system.

California achieved 8 out of 10 key indicators of public health emergency preparedness. Overall, the report found that 20 states scored six or less out of 10 key indicators of public health emergency preparedness. Nearly two-thirds of states scored seven or less. Seven states tied for the highest score of nine out of 10: Arkansas, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Vermont. Montana had the lowest score at three out of 10. The preparedness indicators are developed in consultation with leading public health experts based on data from publicly available sources or information provided by public officials.

“The H1N1 outbreak has vividly revealed existing gaps in public health emergency preparedness,” said Richard Hamburg, Deputy Director of TFAH. “The Ready or Not? report shows that a band-aid approach to public health is inadequate. As the second wave of H1N1 starts to dissipate, it doesn’t mean we can let down our defenses. In fact, it’s time to double down and provide a sustained investment in the underlying infrastructure, so we will be prepared for the next emergency and the one after that.”

Overall, the report found that the investments made in pandemic and public health preparedness over the past several years dramatically improved U.S. readiness for the H1N1 outbreak. But it also found that decades of chronic underfunding meant that many core systems were not at-the-ready. Some key infrastructure concerns were a lack of real-time coordinated disease surveillance and laboratory testing, outdated vaccine production capabilities, limited hospital surge capacity, and a shrinking public health workforce. In addition, the report found that more than half of states experienced cuts to their public health funding and federal preparedness funds have been cut by 27 percent since fiscal year (FY) 2005, which puts improvements that have been made since the September 11, 2001 tragedies at risk.

“State and local health departments around the country are being asked to do more with less during the H1N1 outbreak as budgets continue to be stretched beyond their limits,” said Michelle Larkin, J.D., Public Health Team Director and Senior Program Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Public health provides essential prevention and preparedness services that help us lead healthier lives -- without sustained and stable funding, Americans will continue to be needlessly at risk from the next public health threat.”

The report also offers a series of recommendations for improving preparedness, including:

  • Ensure Stable and Sufficient Funding. The 27 percent cut to federal support for public health preparedness since FY 2005 must be restored, and funding must be stabilized at a sufficient level to support core activities and emergency planning. Increased funding must also be provided to modernize flu vaccine production, improve vaccine and antiviral research and development, and fully support the Hospital Preparedness Program.
  • Conduct an H1N1 After-Action Report and Update Preparedness Plans with Lessons Learned. Strengths and weaknesses of the H1N1 response should be evaluated and used to revise and strengthen federal, state, and local preparedness planning, including assessing what additional resources are needed to be sufficiently prepared. Identified gaps in core systems, including communications, surveillance, and laboratories much be addressed. In addition, continued surge capacity concerns, including establishing crisis standards of care, must be addressed.
  • Increase Accountability and Transparency. Federal and state health departments should regularly make updates on progress made on benchmarks and deliverables identified in the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act available to the public so they can see how tax dollars are being used and how well protected their communities are from health threats.
  • Improve Community Preparedness. Additional measures must be taken to reach out quickly and effectively to high-risk populations, including strengthening culturally competent communications around the safety of vaccines. Health disparities among low-income and racial/ethnic minorities, who are often at higher risk during emergencies, must also be addressed.

Score Summary:

A full list of all of the indicators and scores and the full report are available on TFAH’s web site at www.healthyamericans.org and RWJF’s Web site at www.rwjf.org. For the state-by-state scoring, states received one point for achieving an indicator or zero points if they did not achieve the indicator. Zero is the lowest possible overall score, 10 is the highest. The data for the indicators are from publicly available sources or were provided from public officials.

9 out of 10: Arkansas, Delaware, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont

8 out of 10: Alabama, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wisconsin

7 out of 10: Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia

6 out of 10: Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming

5 out of 10: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Washington

3 out of 10: Montana

Trust for America’s Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority. www.healthyamericans.org

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need—the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.

 

 

Horton: Gasoline Demand Up 1% in 3rd Quarter, Diesel Down 10.6%

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Jerome E. Horton, Vice Chairman of the California State Board of Equalization (BOE), today released gasoline and diesel consumption figures for September and total figures for the third quarter of 2009.

Gas consumption increased for the second consecutive quarter since early 2006.

In September 2009, gasoline demand rose 0.05 percent when Californians used 1.219 billion gallons of gasoline compared to just under 1.219 billion gallons the same month last year. The average California gasoline price at the pump in September was $3.17 per gallon compared to $3.84 in September 2008, a 17.4 percent decrease.

In the third quarter of 2009, gasoline consumption increased one percent when Californians used 3.772 billion gallons of gasoline compared to 3.736 billion gallons the third quarter last year.

Gasoline sold in September generated approximately $322 million in sales tax during that month, an estimated $23 million less than generated last year. September sales and use tax revenues from gasoline would have been about $59 million less had the state portion of the sales and use tax not increased by one percent on April 1, 2009.

Diesel fuel sold in California during September totaled 244 million gallons compared to September’s last year total of 254 million gallons, which is a decline of 3.9 percent. California diesel prices were $2.84 per gallon in September 2009 down 30.6 percent compared to September 2008 when the average diesel price was $4.09 per gallon.

Diesel consumption in California declined 10.6 percent in the third quarter of 2009 when Californians used a total of just over 654 million gallons of diesel compared to the third quarter of 2008 total of 732 million gallons. This decline is similar to those seen since early 2008. Diesel consumption generally follows economic activity and is especially closely related to construction and transportation of goods. These sectors were particularly hard hit during the recession, and have yet to start to increase.

Core’s Annual Dinner Will Be Star-Studded Gala

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On Monday, January 18th 2010, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), America’s third oldest and largest civil rights organization, will host its 25th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ambassadorial Reception and Awards Dinner at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, 52nd Street at Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Reception is at 6:30 p.m., dinner and awards begin at 7:30 p.m. Black Tie or National Dress.

The dinner, which is the largest annual celebration in honor of the King Holiday, attracts many local and national politicians as well as celebrities from Hollywood, the music industry and the sports world. Many embassies will send their ambassadors and consuls general to attend as official representatives.

Each year, special guests serve as Masters of Ceremony and as keynote speakers. Past MC’s have included talk radio host Sean Hannity, NY Post gossip queen Cindy Adams, comedian Alan King and actor Tony LoBianco. Keynote speakers have included First Lady Laura Bush and Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Past CORE honorees have included Nobel Prize winner Elie Weisel, international women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Actors Morgan Freeman and Charlton Heston, sports legends Muhammad Ali and Hank Aaron, music superstars Brandy, Janet Jackson and Usher, civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks and, posthumously, former CORE workers and civil rights heroes James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

The 2010 dinner promises to have one of the most dynamic lineups of attendees and honorees. Confirmed guests will be announced shortly. There will be a press conference during the dinner that will include all the hosts, special guests and honorees.

The Gift of Health: Update on H1N1 Virus

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By Ngoc Nguyen –

H1N1 virus has no cure, but there is a way to prevent it … get vaccinated! That’s the message health experts around the state are telling the public, even though H1N1 flu cases have peaked.

“It’s much too early to let our guard down,” says Ken August, spokesperson for the California Department of Public Health. “H1N1 flu cases may be decreasing, but [the virus] is not going away.”

The first two confirmed H1N1 cases in the country were found in California, and now a majority of counties in the state have reported at least one case of H1N1. The virus has hospitalized more than 7,546 Californians and caused nearly 397 deaths, according to the latest state data (http://www.cdph.ca.gov/HealthInfo/discond/Pages/H1N1Home.aspx).

The state estimates that more than 3 million Californians have become ill from the H1N1 flu.

“The vast majority of flu illnesses are of the H1N1 strain. We’re seeing almost none of the seasonal flu strain right now,” said August, who emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated against the strain that is out there the most.

As of early December, California has ordered 7 million doses of H1N1 vaccine. The number of doses ordered so far is enough to vaccinate about 18 percent of the state’s population against H1N1. Early supply problems hampered mass vaccination efforts, said Jonathan Fielding, M.D., public health officer for Los Angeles County.

“That’s really caused a lot of problems, because expectations were heightened, and we didn’t have enough vaccine to fulfill them and that caused anxiety,” he said. Los Angeles County has received 1.4 million doses, whereas the high-risk group is 5.5 million people, Fielding said.

Pregnant women, children, young adults under age 24 and people of all ages with chronic conditions are at increased risk of infection and complications from the flu. Health officials emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated against H1N1 flu, especially those in high-risk groups, and they said it is not too late to do so. As it takes up to two weeks after a vaccination for the body to develop immunity, those who want to protect themselves during the holiday season should get immunized in the next two weeks.

The experts say the epidemic has crested for now, but we’re likely to see additional waves. “We’ve already had a second, we could see a third wave,” said Fielding. The first wave of H1N1 infections occurred in the spring (April-June), with cases dropping off, but never disappearing, during the summer. Infections spiked again in October, after students went back to school.

Takashi Wada, M.D., public health officer for the City of Pasadena, said H1N1 cases could rebound again after the New Year, as people tend to congregate indoors more during the winter and travel over the holidays.

In Santa Clara County, H1N1 hospitalizations and school absenteeism have leveled off, according to Joy Alexiou, spokesperson for the county public health department. But, getting vaccinated is still a good idea, she says, because flu activity is still high. “Flus are notorious for changing and getting unpredictable,” Alexiou said. “Will there be another wave after the first of this year? We don’t know.” The message: Better to be safe than sorry. Get vaccinated.

Gift of Health is supported by grants from The California Endowment and California Community Foundation.

SCE Reaches Out to Customers to Help Lower Their Bills

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This holiday season, many Californians find themselves facing tough financial situations, and Southern California Edison (SCE) is reaching out to help. According to a recent survey, about 12 percent of SCE’s customers – 480,000 – are having trouble paying their bills.

SCE is asking its customers to call the utility as soon as they think they will have problems paying their electricity bills.

“There are so many ways we can work with our customers,” said Lynda Ziegler, SCE’s senior vice president, Customer Service. “We encourage them to call us so we are aware they need help.

We have many programs and services that provide various forms of assistance.”

SCE offers the following programs for customers:

· The California Alternate Rate for Energy (CARE) program provides a discount of 20 percent or more on income-qualifying customers’ monthly electric bills. There are 1.2 million SCE customers enrolled in CARE; an additional 193,000 customers are eligible, but have not enrolled.

· FERA, the Family Electric Rate Assistance program, allows a discounted rate on the monthly bill for families of three or more who fall within the income guidelines and exceed their baseline usage by 30 percent or more.

· EMA, the Energy Management Assistance program, helps income-qualified households conserve energy and reduce their electricity costs. SCE supplies and installs energy-efficient appliances and equipment at no cost to eligible customers. EMA services are available to homeowners and renters.

· EAF, the Energy Assistance Fund, grants up to $100 per year to help customers who cannot pay their electric bills. The grants are administered by assistance agencies. EAF is funded by donations from SCE employees, customers and Edison International, SCE’s publicly held parent company.

· SCE can offer assistance to customers having difficulty paying their bills through payment plans or extensions. Reaching out to SCE as soon as customers recognize they may have problems paying their bills will help avoid disconnections and the fees and deposits that often are required to restore service.

· Customers who rely on electronic medical equipment may be eligible for the Medical Baseline discounted rate.

· Customers who need additional help should call 211 to connect with community service programs throughout California.

To learn more about these programs and other ways SCE helps customers keep current on their bills, please visit www.sce.com/assistance or call 1-800-369-3652.

In addition, SCE encourages all customers to keep bills low by conserving energy.

Information on payment plans, household energy guzzlers, and rebates and savings are at www.sce.com/highbillhelper.

Customers also can learn many easy ways to save energy at www.sce.com/tips.

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