Lawmakers Were Warned About Flu Pandemic
The number of CDC-confirmed Swine Flu cases in Texas remains at sixteen. State health officials have been working overtime trying to contain the virus. But early last year, they were warning state lawmakers that Texas was ill prepared to deal with a flu pandemic.
Fourteen months ago – some of the state’s top health officials sat down before a House panel on emergency preparedness and answered questions about hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes. But their biggest concern in February of 2008 was biological – specifically, the threat of a widespread flu outbreak.
Steve McCraw from the Texas Office of Homeland Security says, “Until the outbreak occurs, we have no perfect solution or vaccine for that outbreak. So, it’s a catch-up game from Day 1. That’s why Jack and I talk about what keeps us up late at night is that pandemic flu.”
He’s referring to is Jack Colley, the chief of the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management. He also testified at last year’s hearing.
“No city, no matter how big or how much they want to, can handle some of these events that we plan for, and that’s why when I say we’re prepared, it’s our ability to respond to that area with the capabilities that not only the state has, but the federal government has,” Colley says.
State Representative Diane Delisi – who has since resigned – was among the lawmakers worried about a flu pandemic during the 2008 hearing. She expressed concern about a shortage of healthcare professionals and limited hospital capacity.
“To say that we’re fully prepared, knowing that our infrastructure right now is stretched to the point that it’s unacceptable, I’m uneasy about that statement,” Delisi says.
John Carlo with the Texas Medical Association also testified to the House subcommittee in February of last year. He said any situation involving mass casualties would strain hospitals.
“I can tell you the biggest fear I will have is what happens in the emergency rooms and what happens to the clinicians when all of the sudden the full system experiences more, and that’s my big fear,” he says.
Since those hearings fourteen months ago, there have been no wide-scale upgrades to the state’s healthcare infrastructure. But Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey says the state has been looking at ways to increase hospital capacity temporarily in the event of a flu pandemic. Governor Rick Perry has also asked the federal government for more than 850-thousand courses of antiviral medication from the Strategic National Stockpile. That more than doubles the amount already on hand in Texas.