State Preparedness for Bioterrorist Attack Improved, DHS Director Tells Legislative Panel
The Department of Health Services' bioterrorism preparedness efforts are "improving rapidly," following a series of reports released in the past eight months that were "critical of the state's ability to respond to public health emergencies," DHS Director Sandra Shewry said Monday at a legislative hearing, the Sacramento Bee reports.
DHS over the past five years has received $286 million in federal bioterrorism funding, but recent reviews by RAND, the Trust for America's Health and the Legislative Analyst's Office have noted inadequate leadership and planning by the state to respond to a potential bioterror threat.
"California is more prepared today than it has ever been," Shewry said at the hearing. She noted that one year ago, about half of staff positions for anti-bioterrorism efforts at DHS were vacant, compared with only 10% of such jobs, or 11 positions, that currently remain vacant. "Without staffing, it's hard to meet objectives," Shewry said. She added that emergency preparedness is DHS' top priority.
Other hearing participants also said DHS' staffing has improved, citing the hiring of Richard Jackson, who most recently worked on bioterrorism preparedness at CDC, as public health officer.
Kimberly Shoaf, assistant director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Public Health and Disasters, said the state's efforts are still hindered by the lack of a state or federal definition for "public health preparedness."
The hearing was called by Assembly member Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), chair of the budget subcommittee on health and human services, which oversees DHS' funding (Lau, Sacramento Bee, 3/1).