Oklahoma ranked 50th in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to other states and the District of Columbia in a nonprofit’s Scorecard on State Health System Performance released late Wednesday.
The Commonwealth Fund is a nonprofit foundation that supports independent research on health policy reform and a high-performance health system. It aims to serve society’s most vulnerable, including those with low incomes, people of color and the uninsured, according to its website.
This is the first of the foundation’s annual surveys — which cover the quality of health care access, service use, cost and health outcomes — to include an assessment of states’ handling of COVID-19 from February 2020 to March 2022.
To reach its rankings, the study featured multiple COVID-19-specific factors, including state vaccination rates, hospital and ICU capacities and excess mortality rates — which are rates that exceed historical norms.
People are also reading…
Oklahoma, for example, is ranked 50th in the U.S. in hospital admissions for confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 2,564 cases per 100,000 individuals as of 2022. The national average is 1,443 cases per 100,000 individuals.
The state is ranked 45th in the U.S. for its number of days of high ICU stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 308 days as of 2022. The national average was 112 days.
Oklahoma was also ranked 47th in days of hospital staffing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 349 days as of 2022. The national average was 50 days.
The state was only behind Mississippi in its overall COVID-19 response, according to the nonprofit.
Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said during a video news conference Wednesday that lower-placing states received the rankings they did because of their relatively slow progress in vaccinating their residents, high COVID hospitalization and ICU levels, and hospital staffing shortages.
Oklahoma hasn’t reached a 70% full-vaccination rate for individuals ages 12 and up, and according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, only 57.7% of Oklahomans have two shots. According to the Commonwealth Fund study, it took an average of 354 days for the 30 states with 70% full-vaccination rates to reach that point.
Blumenthal said COVID-19 transmission rates are higher in states with lower vaccination rates, creating several issues related to and beyond COVID-19.
“In the absence of vaccines … people who get infected with COVID-19 are more likely to become severely ill, potentially requiring hospitalization and care in an intensive care unit,” Blumenthal said.
“Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen reporting on hospitals that are near breaking points — operating at or near capacity. When hospitals operate under these conditions, patients can get turned away or delay care for non-COVID causes, and staff suffer from high levels of stress.”
Oklahoma has 14,458 reported COVID-related deaths as of June 14. According to the Commonwealth Fund survey, the state has experienced 428 excess deaths per 100,000 individuals, giving it 40th place in the U.S., which averages 345 excess deaths per 100,000.
The study was co-authored by Commonwealth Fund Vice President for Health Care Coverage and Access Sara Collins, who said during the news conference that the scorecard presents potential areas of policy action that could strengthen the nation’s ability to respond to future public health crises.
Examples include the development of a long-term and evidence-based pandemic preparedness strategy, fighting misinformation by strengthening content moderation policies related to matters of public health, and requiring hospitals and other facilities to develop comprehensive disaster response strategies so they can increase short-term capacities and bring on additional staff in emergencies.
“COVID-19 has pushed all states and health systems to their limits, exposing severe gaps in infrastructure and access to care, as our nation faces an ongoing public health crisis,” Blumenthal said. “We must prioritize policy solutions that center equity, safety and health.”
Ultimately, Blumenthal said in a Commonwealth Fund press release that the scorecard’s findings highlight how states with the strongest health care systems had the lowest numbers of preventable deaths.
“This is a wake-up call for states with weaker systems to invest in their health care infrastructures — for both the long term and day to day,” Blumenthal said in the release.