State’s Public Health System Unprepared for Bioterrorist Attack, Health Experts Say
California's public health system, which would be the state's "first defense" against a bioterrorist attack, is underfunded and understaffed, according to a panel of lawmakers and health experts who met yesterday to discuss the state's bioterrorism preparedness, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. The panel discussion was sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of California-Berkeley's Center for Health and Public Policy. Speaking at the roundtable, Assembly member Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills) said that the state's public health system has a "difficult time with a bad flu season," much less a bioterrorist attack. Richman, a physician who has a master's degree in public health, has proposed two bills that would update the state's public health system to better deal with a bioterrorist attack. One of the bills, modeled after legislation drafted by the CDC, would give the Department of Health Services authority over the 58 county health agencies and three city agencies in dealing with "any bioterrorist attack or outbreak of epidemic disease." The legislation would authorize the governor to declare a public health emergency, which would allow forcible quarantines and takeovers of hospitals, drugstores and other private property. Although Richman acknowledged that the governor "already has many of these emergency powers," he said they need to be "consolidated and clarified" (Coleman, AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/19). Richman has proposed another bill that would require physicians, nurses and pharmacists to complete bioterrorism preparedness training every two years (California Healthline, 12/10/01). Gov. Gray Davis (D), who is completing his own bioterrorism response plan and will submit it to the CDC by mid-April, believes that Richman's bills are unnecessary, spokesperson Russ Lopez said. Lopez added that California is "doing a much better job than other states" in preparing for a bioterrorist attack. Richman disagreed, citing tests of the system that found a "lack of coordination and planning." Dr. Poki Namkung, a public health physician in Berkeley, said, "[T]he public health infrastructure is seriously eroded in California" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 3/19).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.