States, cities getting federal money to prepare for bioterrorist attack

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ States and cities are getting more than $1 billion in federal money to help their health officials prepare for bioterrorism, as well as less exotic epidemics or disasters.

The Department of Health and Human Services began telling all 50 governors how much their states are eligible for on Thursday, with part of the money coming right away.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said after decades of failing to invest enough money in public health, the Sept. 11 attacks have forced change.

``We now have the opportunity to build a viable, vibrant, strong local and state public health system that will prepare and protect our citizens for any attack that may come,'' he told a news conference.

The money will help teach medical and emergency workers more about recognizing the early signs of any infectious disease outbreak, but especially a bioterrorist attack, such as the release of anthrax or smallpox germs.

It also will be used to improve labs, upgrade computers, prepare hospitals to treat a huge influx of sick or injured, and improve communications between local, state and federal health officials.

The state allotments range from $6.5 million for Wyoming, with the smallest population, to $69.7 million for California, the most populous. Los Angeles County will be eligible for an additional $27.9 million.

Three other cities will get their own money for bioterrorism planning and creating regional hospital plans: New York City, $25.8 million; Chicago, $12.7 million; and Washington, D.C., $12 million.

In addition, more than $14 million of the nearly $1.1 billion will go to 49 cities to assist their planning under an existing emergency preparedness program for metropolitan areas.

D.A. Henderson, the department's director of public health preparedness, urged local governments to put the money to use quickly because of the danger of an act of bioterrorism.

``We don't sleep well at night because we are afraid we will have another event _ hope we don't _ but there's just too much out there that's threatening,'' Henderson said.

The money is part of nearly $3 billion Congress provided for bioterrorism preparation this year, including funds to beef up federal agencies and buy vaccines and antibiotics. President Bush signed the bill into law Jan. 10.

States can begin spending 20 percent of their funds immediately. To receive the rest of the money, each state must submit a comprehensive plan for improving core public health system.

The plans are due by March 15. Thompson said HHS would review each plan within 30 days and release the rest of each state's money when its plan is approved.

``We're not going to be heavy-handed on it. We just want to make sure the money is well spent,'' Thompson said, standing in the lobby of George Washington University Hospital.

After accepting a large mock-up of a check for his state, Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer said the money would help prepare for all sorts of health emergencies. Geringer stressed the importance of earning public confidence so people will follow emergency directions.

``If the public is confident that their leaders, particularly their health leaders, know what's going on, know how to deal with it, they will comply,'' said Geringer, a Republican. ``If they don't, anarchy breaks out. And it will break out quickly.''

Thompson said he could not disclose details of Bush's budget proposal, to be released Monday, but offered his assurance that there would be more money for state health systems next year.