January 29, 2015

Senators: Is Missouri ready for Ebola? (AUDIO)

Some state lawmakers want to make sure state agencies have the resources and the authority they need to keep Ebola away from Missouri, or to deal with it if it shows up.

The Public Safety Department says is has a response plan in place to deal with any disaster–including a contagious disease outbreak. But it would take orders from the Health Department. Health director Gail Vasterling says the department has been keeping local responders and providers up to date, telling a panel of legislators,  “The Department..has since July sent out ten health alerts with regard to Ebola.”   Each one has a 24-hour hotline number that links hospitals and health workers  to the state or regional epidemiologists.

Gail Vasterling

Some Senators want the department to have power to order protocols to be followed when local reports of suspected Ebola cases are received. Some of them suggest Governor Nixon should impose travel bans although Vasterling says federal officials will tell the department if anyone from an infected country is coming to Missouri, and the department will have local officials keep an eye on them until the incubation period ends and arrange treatment if a case develops.

AUDIO: Hearing, part 1

AUDIO: Hearing, part 2

Hartzler wants more restrictions on travel to fight Ebola

The Department of Homeland Security has announced it will require all flights coming from countries in West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak continues, to go to one of five U.S. airports where enhanced screenings for the disease are being done.

Those airports are John F. Kennedy International in New York, Dulles in Washington, Newark in New Jersey, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and the closest to Missouri; Chicago’s O’Hare International.

Several Republican members of Missouri’s congressional delegation had called for travel bans or restrictions in response to the outbreak.

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, after the announcement of the funneling of those flights today, issued a statement commending the Obama Administration for taking steps to keep Ebola from spreading in the U.S., but questioned whether more still needs to be done.

“Due to the large window in which an infected person could be symptom-free, I believe we must suspend the issuance of visas to individuals from those affected countries,” writes Hartzler. “We must do more to stop the spread of the virus in the United States and to protect American lives.

Senator Roy Blunt has also called for travel restrictions to fight Ebola, including during a segment on NBC’s Meet the Press.

MO Social Services responds to claim of ‘horrendous’ Medicaid service

State lawmakers want to know what the Department of Social Services is doing to answer the needs of people calling its Medicaid hotline, after hearing about one woman’s runaround.

Lawmakers responded to a report by ABC 17 news that a pregnant woman had been trying to get help from the Department since June. She says it repeatedly lost her paperwork and wouldn’t return her calls.

The chairwoman of the House Committee that focuses on the Department’s budget, Sue Allen, calls the situation “horrendous.”

“It’s not just that one person because we know if one person is having a problem, there are many people having the same or similar problems,” says Allen.

Family Support Division Director Alyson Campbell admits to the committee her division isn’t getting the job done, but says an effort to fix the problem is still getting up to speed.

“It’s been in place now three weeks, and so when we first implemented it we didn’t know the capacity of the staffing that we would need,” says Campbell.

The Department says thirty percent of its callers are having their needs met, which Campbell acknowledges is too low. She says staff are being reassigned to taking calls and other changes are being made to improve that percentage, but Allen says the situation remains frustrating.

“In a company, in a private business, people would be gone,” observes Allen.

She says she’ll be watching for progress.

Missouri Sen. Blunt talks handling of Ebola, halting travel (VIDE0)

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) says Ebola is enough cause for concern to stop people from coming into this country from areas where its outbreak continues.

Blunt, speaking Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, says travel visas for passengers trying to enter the U.S. from Ebola-stricken countries should be temporarily suspended.

“I’d suspend those visas until we have this under better control and have a sense that the carriers they are using are monitoring this in a better way than they have been up ’til now,” says Blunt.

He says Americans feel less safe than they did a month ago after questions were raised about how hospital workers are protected and trained to handle disease outbreaks.

“People didn’t get upset about this as long as hospitals were dealing with it in the right way,” says Blunt. “You had two missionaries come to Emory [University], they were there, they were cured. I didn’t see a single comment by any American saying we’re concerned that this isn’t being handled correctly.”

The Ebola situation has amplified the criticism some have leveled at Republicans, saying they are refusing to confirm President Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murphy. They are accused at holding it up at the direction of the NRA, who doesn’t like that Murphy sees gun violence as a public health issue.

Blunt says a different kind of politics is behind the delay in that confirmation vote.

“Until this came up, frankly, I’ve heard very little discussion about the Surgeon General. I’m hearing now that the Attorney General nomination won’t happen until after the election. We keep putting everything off until after the election and that’s one of the reasons that things don’t work.”

Blunt thinks Americans see this as the latest in a series of situations for which government response hasn’t been what it should be.

“If this was one incidence where people thought the government wasn’t doing what the government was supposed to do, it would be much less of a reaction than we see now where there’s this long list of the government being one step behind whether its the border, the IRS, the Secret Service,” says Blunt. “Now this health concern is more real than it would be if there wasn’t a sense that the government is just not being managed in a way that people would want it to be managed.”

Missouri health lab can now do preliminary Ebola tests (VIDEO)

Missouri now has a lab to conduct preliminary tests for the Ebola virus.

The State Public Health Laboratory in Jefferson City has been designated an Ebola Virus Disease testing lab in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Laboratory Response Network. Preliminary testing of samples for Ebola can now be done at that state lab before being sent to the CDC lab in Atlanta for confirmation testing.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) announced the designation Friday and stressed that there are no cases of Ebola in Missouri. He says he asked the Director of the Department of Health and Senior Service to apply for the designation earlier this month, and confirmation came on Thursday.

Nixon is also releasing $3.3-million in the state budget that he had withheld, for local public health agencies.