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Is Nevada Ready For A Public Health Disaster?

Vincent Yu/AP

Health workers killed chickens in a Hong Kong market in 2014 in an effort to stop the spread of H7N9 flu. It's being watched closely as a virus that might spark a pandemic outbreak.

With natural disasters, come health disasters. 

Is Nevada prepared? A new study by the Trust for America’s Health says no. 

Half of all states are not prepared to deal with diseases, disasters and bioterrorism, and Nevada ranks among the worst – scoring 3 out of 10.

Albert Lang of Trust for America’s Health told KNPR's State of Nevada that one of the biggest problems with all states, including Nevada, is the lack of funds.

He said following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 there was an influx of funds to pay for disaster preparedness, but since the Great Recession funding has dwindled.

The funding isn't just a problem the states have. Lang said the federal government hasn't put money towards long-term planning; instead, it is shelling out money when a disaster happens.

"Instead of planning for and putting in place the kind of funding and procedures that would make that emergency supplemental funding not needed, they basically put a Band-aid on and ignore everything else," he said.

According to the report, Nevada the second lowest per-person spending in the country. Currently, it spends less than $10 per person per year on disaster preparedness.

Lang did say that Nevada is doing some things right, including hospital antibiotic programs in case of a mass outbreak of infection. The state's public health labs are being well maintained, and training at the labs are on par with national standards.

However, Nevada has the lowest rate of flu vaccinations in the nation. Lang said vaccination rates are important because it is an indicator of how fast a state can ramp up vaccinations during an outbreak.

While the general public may be surprised by the report, Brian Labus, a visiting professor at UNLV's School of Community Health Science, is not.

"Unfortunately, in public health, it is never a surprise when Nevada winds up at the bottom of whatever list it is," Labus said.

Labus said part of the reason is Nevada ranks so low in so many other health indicators and it is tough to sell prevention, even to lawmakers.

"Public health is all about prevention," he said, "and if you put money into something and prevent it —- how do you show you prevented something from happening?"

Labus said those in public health in Nevada are constantly talking to lawmakers about prevention and funding those initiatives. 

But Lang pointed out it's not just lawmakers who need to know about potential risks and be involved in preventing them.

"While there might not be a pressing wildfire or a hurricane or an outbreak of dengue at the moment, that stuff is going to happen," he said. "And not preparing for it means that stuff is going to cost a lot more."


Albert Lang, Trust for America’s Health;  Brian Labus, visiting professor, UNLV School of Community Health Science

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.