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Federal grant would fund Putnam threat preparedness

Federal threat preparedness funding for the Putnam County Health Department could be fully approved within a few weeks, thanks to a recent agreement.

Concerns were first raised at an Oct. 3 board of health meeting, where officials said if the state didn't distribute federal grant monies, it could mean a gap in emergency coverage.

Before, Putnam County depended on Kanawha-Charleston Health Department staff for emergency cases like chemical leaks or disease epidemics.

The grant started July 1, but coincided with an agreement that put Kanawha-Charleston in charge of services in Putnam County.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources and Kanawha-Charleston reached an agreement to have Putnam reapply for the grant. The application process has begun, DHHR officials said.

"This will enable us to build basically the infrastructure, capacity and capability in Putnam County in order to prepare the citizens for a public health disaster and also enable a proper response," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston executive director.

Gupta said although the department is a few weeks away from full grant approval, it will not stop preparedness services already provided to Putnam County residents.

In the Oct. 3 meeting, Janet Briscoe, director of epidemiology and threat preparedness, said the county could be vulnerable in times of emergency if it does not get a full-time threat preparedness coordinator.

Gupta said the department has conducted second-round interviews with people and is proceeding with the hiring process.

"This will happen at a speedier pace when the grant is approved," he said.

State health departments have received this grant since 9/11 to protect public health in cases of emergency.

It is funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and distributed through the West Virginia Center for Threat Preparedness under the DHHR. County health departments are sub-recipients.

Gupta said the department has hired several people and is finding ways to improve services.

Back when the Putnam County Health Department initially had announced a cut in staff, officials had said there was a chance some would be rehired. Gupta said the department has hired back one person and some other people found employment elsewhere.

He said the department had to go through guidelines of the state's Division of Personnel and it takes a while for that process to occur. He said for people who wanted to apply, they were placed a little higher on the merit list.

"Basically, a variety of things happened to those employees," he said. "They were hired elsewhere, whether at the DHHR or elsewhere." 

Gupta said the department is continuing to provide services such as for flu, travel vaccinations and other immunizations. He said the department also is initiating clinics to test for sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis.

"And we are open pretty much five days a week at our own facility now," Gupta said. "We are getting a lot of positive feedback from the citizens. Our employees are working hard."

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at Andrea.Lannom@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. Follow her at www.twitter.com/AndreaLannom.


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