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State ranks low in health disaster readiness

Times Staff Writer

California is among the states least prepared for a deadly pandemic flu or other health disaster, according to a national report card released Tuesday by a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization.

Forty-six states ranked higher than California, which the report said would run out of hospital beds within two weeks during a moderate pandemic flu outbreak.

In addition, the state is not well-prepared to distribute vaccines and medical supplies from the national stockpile, according to the “Ready or Not?” report by Trust for America’s Health. The ranking was the state’s worst showing in the four years the report has been issued.

California health department Director Sandra Shewry disputed the findings, saying the report does not factor in the $250-million investment Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law months ago to improve preparedness.

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That effort involves buying three mobile field hospitals, equipment to supply 21,000 emergency beds and millions of courses of anti-flu medications.

Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, agreed that California has made strides but said the plans are “not in place yet.”

The report showed shortcomings in many states.

Twenty-five would run out of hospital beds within two weeks in a moderate pandemic flu. And 35 were not deemed well-prepared to use the federal stockpile of drugs and medical supplies.

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A pandemic, by definition, would cause at least one-third of the U.S. population to become sick.

In the worst case, 1.9 million Americans -- including 35,000 Californians -- could die in a severe flu outbreak.

The task of preparing for a flu pandemic is daunting. California officials have estimated that as many as 130,700 beds would be needed in such an event, but in May the state could find only 17,300 emergency beds to add to the existing supply of 72,000.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County’s public health director and an advisor on the report, cautioned against drawing conclusions without considering California’s demographic differences with other states.

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“It’s very hard to compare what goes on in a small, homogenous state with what goes on in California,” he said.

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ron.lin@latimes.com


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