HHS Officials Question Effect of Planned Revisions to U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
Several HHS officials, including CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding and FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan, have begun to question proposed revisions to the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, USA Today reports (Sternberg, USA Today, 9/22). In a letter made public last week, McClellan said that the changes could "seriously negatively" affect the corps' morale and effectiveness, the Washington Post reports (Branigan, Washington Post, 9/20). In July, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced a plan to expand the corps -- one of the seven Uniformed Services of the United States -- through recruitment of more providers and improved instruction for corps officers. The plan would establish scholarships to recruit 1,000 nurses and 100 physicians each year to practice in medically underserved areas, improve and expand instruction for corps members, establish a reserve corps and make the corps 100% deployable by the end of 2005. Under the plan, corps officers also would have to meet health and fitness standards (California Healthline, 8/12). Corps members also would have to agree to be deployed immediately in an emergency; currently, only 30% of the corps is considered ready to be deployed on short notice. The plan also would centralize management of the corps, whose personnel currently serve in several different HHS agencies. Although McClellan emphasized his support for aspects of the plan, he questioned the timetable for introducing new deployment standards and the standards' effect on people with family commitments. McClellan wrote in the letter, which was sent last month to Thompson, that the plan differs from a task force's recommendations and does not reflect the concerns McClellan has discussed with HHS officials, the Post reports. In addition, the proposed changes could make it more difficult for the agency to recruit and retain providers, "especially those with bioterrorism and counter-bioterrorism expertise," McClellan wrote.
HHS spokesperson Craig Stevens said the planned overhaul is "a work in progress," adding that Surgeon General Richard Carmona, commander of the corps, has talked about the plan with McClellan and would take into account his and others' concerns. The Post could not reach McClellan for comment. McClellan's letter is the latest in a "chorus of criticism" over the plan, the Post reports. The Commissioned Officers Association, which represents 70% of corps personnel, has said that the revisions could lead people to leave the public health service. The House Committee on Government Reform plans to hold a hearing on the issue; a date for the hearing has not been set (Washington Post, 9/20).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.