HHS secretary announces $1.1 billion to strengthen bioterrorism preparedness, public health infrastructure
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced Jan. 31 that
$1.1 billion in federal funds had been earmarked for states to strengthen
their bioterrorism preparedness, with $200 million being released immediately
so state officials can start planning.
"That, my friends, is the largest one-time investment in our nation's
public health infrastructure ever," said Thompson, referring to the $1.1
billion allocation. "This is going to be an investment. It'll be money well-spent."
Thompson said he expected the money would be used to upgrade infectious
disease surveillance and investigation, enhance public health laboratory
capacities and improve communications among local, state and federal health
Under the plan, state health departments, in collaboration with local
counterparts, will develop comprehensive preparedness plans. Upon approval
by the state's governor, the plan then will go to HHS for approval, said
Thompson, who made the announcement at George Washington University Hospital
in Washington, D.C. HHS will review the plans, which are to be received
before March 15, within 30 days of receipt and then release the remaining
funds to the state, he added.
Thompson said this investment would help improve the nation's entire
public health infrastructure and not just the response to bioterrorism.
Each state will receive a $5 million base award immediately and then,
based on population, get varying amounts of funding. Under the plan, California
will receive nearly $70 million, representing the greatest share, while
Wyoming, which has the smallest population, will get about $6.5 million.
Larger municipalities, including New York City and Los Angeles County,
will receive $5 million apiece; Washington, D.C., will get $10 million.
The funds come from a $2.9 billion bioterrorism appropriations bill
President Bush signed into law Jan. 10.
Thompson couldn't say whether the funding would become an annual allocation,
but he hinted that he wouldn't be surprised if he were standing at the same
spot a year from now making a similar announcement. He also said the federal
government was "not going to be heavy handed" on how states use the funds.
Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer said that his state, which has 25 hospitals,
had been working on a bioterrorism plan with HHS since 1999, but there was
no sense of urgency until Sept. 11. He said Wyoming was focusing on upgrading
its public health laboratories, enhancing its poison control center, performing
better disease surveillance through geographic information systems to plot
trends, and creating a statewide computer network to share data among all
public health officials, hospitals and other providers.
Urban areas, Geringer said, have exactly the same concerns as the remote
areas of Wyoming. A lack of technology, the shortage of communications equipment
and trained health care officials, and a need for more exercises and drills
for disaster response are top issues that need to be addressed throughout
the country, he said.
Thompson also announced that part of the federal allocation would support
the Metropolitan Medical Response System, which helps local jurisdictions'
ability to respond to released chemical or biological disease and events
involving mass casualties. The program will add 25 cities to the 97 already
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