NEW YORK – A letter sent Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell by the Texas Republican congressional delegation questions the competence of the Obama administration in managing the current Ebola outbreak.
“Of the $10.8 billion the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates it spent in FY 2014, almost $1.4 billion went to ‘Public Health Preparedness and Response’ activities,” says the letter from Sens. Ted and John Cornyn and all 24 members of the House from Texas.
The lawmakers point out that among the activities in the CDC budget is a Cities Readiness Initiative to “support local medical countermeasure distribution and dispensing planning in the nation’s 72 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSA).”
“Since Dallas is one of the cities in this initiative, and ground zero for the first U.S. Ebola case, it is especially troubling to witness the federal government’s communication missteps and confusion about protocols knowing that a wide range of federal resources have already been in place for years,” the delegation says.
“As the brave health professionals directly involved with the treatment of this virus do their part, we must understand how years spent developing strategic plans and applying these significant resources failed to adequately prepare for dealing with Ebola after it was first discovered here.
The Texas delegation says that before “contemplating any additional course of action, we need a better understanding of how your Department has utilized the tools it’s already been given.”
The letter outlines to Burwell the following requests:
- Please identify all strategic plans, policies, and protocols developed under the authorities of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Acts involved in the treatment and containment of the current Ebola crisis, along with a description of how these procedures are being implemented.
- Please provide an accounting of the role and steps taken by the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, a position created by the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006, involved in the treatment and containment of the current Ebola crisis.
- Please provide an accounting of how all your Department’s Public Health Preparedness and Response activities, such as the State and Local Preparedness and Response Capability and the CDC Preparedness and Response Capability, were utilized in preparation for and in response to Ebola cases in the United States.
- Please provide any distinction between the role and responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and those of the recently appointed “Ebola Czar,” Ron Klain, involved in the response to the current Ebola crisis, including containment efforts.
- Please identify any additional authorities and programs being used by the Department involved in the treatment and containment of the current Ebola crisis.
The administration’s response to the Ebola crisis was the subject of an Oct. 24 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
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HHS Assistant Secretary Nicole Lurie, M.D., faced tough questioning from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
“You’re the key person in HHS responsible for preparedness and response to public health emergencies, right?” Jordan asked.
After acknowledging she was the top adviser to the HHS secretary on public health emergencies, Roth admitted she was not aware of $39 million in HHS grants Jordan claimed were spent to develop relatively trivial programs, such as school menus and puppet shows.
“Might we be closer to having an Ebola vaccine today if we had not wasted $39 million in HHS programs most taxpayers think were misdirected?” Jordan asked. “If developing vaccines is a costly process, would we not be further along if $39 million were spent on Ebola vaccine development?”
At the same hearing, Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, disclosed the results of a survey of more than 3,000 nurses in more than 1,000 hospitals in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia. It found that 68 percent say their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola, and 84 percent say their hospital has not provided education on Ebola.
“The heroic nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas had to interact with Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan with whatever minimal and woefully inadequate protective equipment was available, at a time when he was unfortunately most vulnerable with diarrhea and vomiting, and therefore most contagious,” Burger said in a prepared statement.
“Initially the nurses who interacted with Mr. Duncan wore a non‐impermeable gown front and back, three pairs of gloves, with no taping around wrists, surgical masks, with the option of N‐95s, and face shields. Some supervisors even told the nurses the N‐95 masks were not necessary,” she said.
Burger concluded her testimony by explaining that all she was asking President Obama and Congress was: “Not one more Ebola-infected nurse.”