Washington is better prepared than most for handling public health emergencies, but the state’s health care system ranks among the country’s worst at routinely delivering high-quality care to rural areas, according to a study released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index, an evaluation originally built by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scored Washington a 7.1 out of 10 nationally as far as overall emergency readiness. That’s above the national average of 6.8.
The grade takes into account 139 measurements, including public medical laboratory testing capacity, staffing of medical workers and the ability to address a public health problem, such as how quickly emergency medicine can be distributed.
Those were Washington’s strongest points.
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The one area where the state lags behind much of the rest of the nation — and ranks ninth from the bottom — is in the medical system’s capacity to serve everyone.
In that, Washington scored a 4.4 out of 10, nearly as close to Louisiana’s worst-in-the-country 3.3 as it was to the national average of 5.3.
Here’s why Washington scored poorly in that category:
The survey takes into account how well a state’s medical resources can serve everyone under normal and emergency conditions. Washington’s rural expanses bring the state down on some of the index’s measurements, such as the percentage of people who live more than 75 miles from a trauma or burn center, said Glen Mays, a University of Kentucky public health professor who led a team that developed the index.
In a large state (such as Washington) with a geographical mix of urban and rural, Mays said, “It can be challenging to make sure you’ve got the full array of health care workforce and facilities you need.”
Scores from individual states reflect considerable regional disparities. For example, all six New England states scored above the national average in preparedness, as did Oregon. No state in the Deep South did.
Another metric the index examines is the size of the nursing workforce.
Washington’s nursing population is around the middle of the pack nationally, according to 2016 statistics compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, while the state’s population ranks considerably higher.
Washington isn’t alone. That category had the lowest average score nationally, and the best-scoring state — Vermont — got just a 6.7 out of 10.
The full 2017 findings of the National Health Security Preparedness Index are at nhspi.org.