HHS Is Playing Russian Roulette With Nation's Public Health, Hospital Preparedness

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Public Health And Hospital Preparedness

The members of the House and Senate released a report conducted by the Government Accountability Office on Federal efforts to improve the state of the nation's public health and hospital emergency preparedness programs.

The GAO found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) currently has no standards to "compare data across recipients to measure collective progress, compare progress across recipients' programs, or provide consistent feedback to recipients." While HHS acknowledges that work needs to be done to improve the grant process and plans to provide a snapshot of the progress recipients have made in building emergency readiness capacity by the end of 2007, there is little progress and the 2007 deadline remains tentative.

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Chairman Thompson issued the following statement regarding the findings:

"This is an incredible indictment of the emergency preparedness programs that HHS administers. In the event of a catastrophe, most people will flood the public health system. This report indicates that currently we have no way of knowing which hospital is up to the task. It is critical to our security that our health systems have the tools they need to respond to any and all emergencies including bioterrorist events, natural disasters or an influenza pandemic." HHS is playing Russian Roulette with the health of the nation. When tragedy strikes people need to be able to rely on their government. We all deserve better.

Rep. Markey said, "As demonstrated by the Bush Administration's failed response to Hurricane Katrina and weaknesses in the public health system exposed by the possibility of an outbreak of avian flu, it is clear that our country has a serious preparedness gap that demands immediate attention. It is unacceptable that more than four years after passage of the Bioterrorism Act, the Bush Administration still does not have an adequate system in place to identify gaps and monitor whether the preparedness grants created under the legislation actually increase preparedness. The time to strengthen the public health infrastructure is before a pandemic flu, anthrax attack or similar mass casualty event occurs in our country. Today's GAO report is a sobering wake- up call that must not be ignored."

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