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Officials question Putnam preparedness

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Is Putnam County's health department prepared for an emergency?

This was one of the concerns brought up at Thursday's Putnam County Board of Health meeting. Officials expressed concerns that if the state doesn't distribute federal grant monies to the department, it could mean a gap in emergency coverage.

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.

For right now, Briscoe said Putnam County depends on the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department staff for emergency cases like chemical leaks or disease epidemics. Briscoe said Kanawha-Charleston can distribute mass vaccinations or medicines.

"Right now, there is kind of a gap until we get that person in place," she said. "There is a risk of not being able to fully cover an event if it should happen and in a county of 55,000, it is pretty dangerous."

This doesn't mean that the department is the only agency responsible for emergencies. Briscoe said the department participates with emergency management, the ambulance authority and other agencies. The health department acts as a hub, she 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 of this money.

Right now, officials said the holdup with the funds is from the DHHR. The grant started July 1 but this coincided with an agreement that put Kanawha- Charleston in charge of providing all services in Putnam County.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston executive director, said grants for Kanawha and many other counties have been approved.

"At this point, I'm flustered as to how many hoops we need to go through to have people to do this job to protect the residents of this county," he said.

Gupta briefly touched on a federal investigation into how grant money, including those from federal funds, were managed by the previous administration.

Gupta said the investigation is focusing on anything and everything before July 1 but noted he didn't know how far back investigators are going. He said he has continued to encourage DHHR to ensure that "past activities do not hold hostage future funding."

"If the feds are investigating actions of the past, we can't stop protecting people today," Gupta said.

The board authorized Gupta to pursue local, state and federal government officials to see why the money hasn't been given to Putnam County.

"We have made a lot of progress in Kanawha County but I'm not sure what the levels are in Putnam County. I believe they need to be protected at the same level as any other county in the state and I'm not feeling that from the DHHR yet," Gupta told board members. "For whatever reasons, the 2014 grant still has not been approved."

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


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