Washington, DC – Senator Susan Collins today commended the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for its co-leadership, with the Harvard School of Public Health, of a study that found that rural states face unique and significant homeland security challenges that are important to the safety of people living in rural and urban communities. The report titled, “Preparing for Public Health Emergencies: Meeting the Challenges in rural America,” brought together more than 80 public health preparedness leaders to identify the barriers facing rural public health preparedness. The report also includes findings from a survey of state preparedness directors of both rural and urban states. Maine was one of 26 states to participate in the survey.
“The report reinforces important points that I have continually stressed to federal officials, that rural areas face unique homeland security challenges that, though different from their urban counterparts, must not be swept under the rug. Much of the nation’s water supplies, food supplies, and critical industries such as power plants and water treatment facilities are located outside of urban areas. An attack to these systems and resources would not just harm the small towns where they are located, it could be crippling to the larger cities that they serve,” said Senator Collins.
The report found that rural America is vulnerable to bioterrorism and other serious health emergency threats, such as natural disasters. The report even highlighted a recent arsenic poisoning incident in a community in New Sweden, Maine as an example of the vulnerabilities and need for preparedness resources to respond to emergencies in rural areas. In the survey, state directors from both rural and urban states pointed to certain barriers to public health preparedness, such as a lack of state general funding support, the need to expand and improve statewide and regional health care systems, and inadequately staffed and equipped hospital emergency rooms.
“Public health care systems in rural states need to be strengthened so that they are adequately prepared to address local threats, and to assist with mass emergencies in nearby areas,” said Senator Collins. “Congress must work together with state and local governments and agencies to ensure that our hospitals and first responders have the financial and human resources necessary to protect our communities. This report highlights the need for all states to receive a fair share of federal funding to ensure that they are prepared for health emergencies.”
The Senate recently approved a budget amendment offered by Senator Collins that restores $565 million for state homeland security programs that support first responders. Senators Collins has also introduced legislation that would redefine the federal homeland security funding formula to target billions of dollars toward high risk states and cities while ensuring that all states receive the resources needed to prevent and be prepared for potential terrorist acts. State homeland security funding can be used to ensure preparedness to respond to health emergencies.