States get infusion of bioterror funds

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"The weakest link"

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

departments.

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

receiving funds.

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