Hospitals pushed to plan for bioterrorist attacks

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Capital News Service
LANSING — A bill to require all hospitals to enact a biohazard detection and handling plan is before the full House of Representatives after winning committee approval.
“The bill is intended to make all hospitals come into compliance with the anti-terrorism bill to make sure they are up to speed,” Sen. Martha G. Scott, D-Highland Park, told Health Policy Committee members.
Scott had already helped the bill pass in the Senate and now wants to help the measure clear in the House.
Most larger hospitals have a bioterrorism plan. The bill would make sure that all hospitals, including small outstate facilities, will comply, Scott said.
Holland Community Hospital has a bioterrorism readiness plan that was established in the months after Sept. 11. The plan is flexible enough to deal with a variety of emergencies, said Kathy Early, the hospital’s safety officer.
“I think the bill is a good idea,” Early said. “Although I know of a lot of hospitals who do have a plan, I also know of some who don’t. It’s comforting to know that then all hospitals will have a plan in place.”
In the case of a bioterrorist attack, hospitals would need to coordinate their efforts and communicate to handle events accurately and quickly, she said.
“There is not a single answer to the question how prepared we are (for bioterrorism),” said David R. Johnson, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Johnson said Michigan has made much progress in the last few years but there is still more to do.
Biological terrorism, using biological agents to cause catastrophic and potentially destabilizing disease epidemics, is not new, Johnson said. There have been attempts in the ’80s and ’90s at bioterrorism in the United States but none were very well documented until the anthrax cases this fall.
“This is well documented, but yet unsolved bioterrorism in the United States,” Johnson said of the anthrax cases last fall.
A number of different agents, including anthrax, botulism, plague and smallpox could be used as a threat to the United States, Johnson said.
“Our entire population is vulnerable to smallpox,” he said. “There are very few people with ongoing immunities.”
Although there are 15 million doses of the vaccine for smallpox in the United States right now, Johnson said, many side effects could even result in death from the vaccine. That is why the Department of Community Health does not advocate a mass vaccination campaign, he said.
Michigan should take a different approach, Johnson said.
“We need strict airport precautions, contact isolations. We have to notify public health authorities immediately at the local level and from there the state,” he said. “We need to identify those who have had contact with the person (who was exposed).”
The formal health alert network is focused on local health departments so every part of the state is involved, Johnson said. But the network will go through a building process in the next few years.
Rep. Barb Vander Veen, R- Allendale, also a member of the health committee, said it is good that the building process will be enacted as soon as possible.
The building process will include emergency departments, other local agencies, medical-control authorities and local emergency management groups, Johnson said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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