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Lawmakers reconsider preparations for avian flu outbreak

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  • Lawmakers reconsider preparations for avian flu outbreak

    Lawmakers reconsider preparations for avian flu outbreak

    Chelsea Rice

    After failing to pass a bill aimed at preparing Massachusetts for a potential avian flu pandemic last legislative session, Massachusetts lawmakers reintroduced the bill yesterday at the State House.

    The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), would allocate $36.5 million in funding for preparation efforts and also provide liability protection for volunteers who would administer aid to the more than 1 million people who could be affected in an outbreak. Of the funding, $13.8 million would go toward buying antiviral medications to treat infected people.

    Officials from the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Boston Public Health Commission said the bill is long overdue during a meeting held by the Committee of Healthcare.

    Charlotte Roy, a Newton-Wellesley Hospital spokeswoman, said with the supplies area hospitals already have, basic items like bedding, IV solutions and cots would likely run out within the first week of an outbreak.

    "Hospitals have enough problems supplying themselves now that they can't afford funding additional facilities," Roy said.

    Massachusetts Medical Society President Dr. Alan Woodward said it is important to develop a plan early, adding that the avian flu has killed 69 people in 50 countries.

    "Because of the increased speed of global transport, a new pandemic can spread with even more extreme rapidity," he said, citing the need for "early and critical action" in preventing such outbreaks.

    Woodward said the bill takes necessary steps toward providing protection and insurance for state and medical employees who would be treating outbreak victims.

    "This part of the bill is essential if we are to reassure workers while they are doing their best in an extreme emergency," he said, noting that concern over liability has been a major recruitment obstacle the Massachusetts Department of Public Health regularly faces.