Burr Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Improve Nation’s Public Health and Medical Response to Disasters

Legislation puts Secretary of HHS in charge of public health and medical response; provides $1 billion in federal grants to states

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness, today introduced S.3678, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act to improve our public health and medical preparedness and responses during emergencies and disasters. Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Bill Frist (R-TN), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) joined Senator Burr in co-sponsoring the legislation.

"Last week I went down to New Orleans to meet with health care officials to discuss the lessons they have learned from Katrina," said Senator Burr. "Everyone I met agreed we must ensure our hospitals and health care facilities are better prepared to respond to a disaster. This legislation is a first step toward making sure our federal, state, and local governments and public and private health care systems have more tools to better manage an emergency be it a hurricane, a terrorist attack, or a pandemic."

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, after Hurricane Katrina, 68% of states reported they did not feel their public health disaster plans were capable of managing a catastrophic event. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that very few states have the capacity to treat 500 or more patients at one time. Furthermore, the American Public Health Association (APHA) recently reported that 45% of the public health workforce is expected to retire in the next few years.

"Our public health workforce is facing a shortage," Burr said. "We must increase the number of well-trained and well-prepared public health workers to create a standardized and strong public health capability to respond during a disaster."

Burr's bill reauthorizes the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which was signed into law following the terrorist attacks of September 11th and will expire at the end of September 2006. This law made important improvements in our ability to detect bioterrorist attacks and to care for a greater number of patients in an emergency.

Specifically Burr's bill further improves a design for all-hazards preparedness response to a health crisis whether it is deliberate or naturally occurring. The legislation would:

Put someone in charge. The legislation identifies the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) as the lead federal official responsible for public health and medical response to emergencies including a flu pandemic. The Secretary would prepare and implement a coordinated strategy for public health emergency preparedness and response.

Speed up coordinated responses to medical emergencies. The bill would improve training, logistics, and planning for health care providers to ensure emergency medical care can be delivered faster during a disaster. It would also promote the use of mobile medical assets and alternative federal facilities which would provide greater ability to handle an increased number of patients during an emergency.

Establish standard of preparedness from state-to-state. The legislation requires individual states to meet performance standards developed by the Secretary of HHS to ensure all states have a basic level of preparedness for disasters.

Fund public health and medical preparedness. The bill provides over $1 billion per year in federal funding through grants from HHS for public health and medical preparedness.

Organize medical volunteers. The legislation creates a system to promote, organize, train, and support health care volunteers during a disaster.

The Senate Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness, chaired by Senator Burr, held seven public hearings and roundtables prior to the introduction of the legislation. The hearings explored public health and medical preparedness and lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. On Friday, June 14, Senator Burr held a field hearing on public health preparedness in New Orleans, Louisiana to explore the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will mark-up Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act on Wednesday, July 19.

For more information go to https://www.burr.senate.gov

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