County’s Latest Terrorism Plan Seeks $9 Million for Health Lab
What does tracking plague among cats and constructing a new public health lab have in common?
They’re part of the county’s proposed bioterrorism strategy, which is taking shape in the face of an April 15 deadline to submit a plan for $24.3 million in funds being dished out locally by the Bush Administration.
County public health officials, who have been developing the strategy since the bioterrorism funding was announced in January, have proposed beefing up a variety of programs and adding up to several dozen employees.
Among the most notable plans: the re-establishment of the health department’s veterinary unit, which tracked diseases before being disbanded because of budgetary problems.
“Animal diseases can transmit to humans, and we believe that several of the diseases would be the easiest target (for terrorists),” says Dr. James Haughton, medical director of public health for the county’s Department of Health Services. The last time a case of the plague was confirmed in the county, he notes, it was found in a cat.
The plan also calls for spending $9 million to move the county’s cramped public health lab to a larger location. Along with that, the department would hire more high-level clinicians to develop sophisticated tests for detecting new diseases.
Other aspects of the plan include additional training for doctors and hospitals, as well as for public safety personnel, often the first responders. Public health officials also want to beef up computer systems so they can better communicate with outside medical providers and others.
Finally, the county named Sharon Grigsby, a public health officer, as the executive director of bioterrorism, giving her the responsibility of carrying out the plan. Grigsby, 59 was named to her post in early March.
WellPoint Health Networks Inc. reported robust earnings growth for 2001 and was named by Fortune and Forbes as one of the nation’s best-run companies. But the Thousand Oaks-based health insurer is also a lightning rod for criticism by health care providers, who charge that the company is getting rich off their backs through stingy reimbursement rates.
The California Medical Association and others have sued the company in Florida over the matter, and this month, the American Dental Association joined the fray.
The ADA alleges that the company, which provides dental coverage to 2.6 million members, cheats dentists outside its networks by not paying for the cost of services. In the process, it alleges, WellPoint is confusing its members into thinking that their dentists are trying to gouge them. “Patients don’t want to go back” says Peter Sfikas, the ADA’s chief counsel.
A WellPoint spokesman declined to comment on the suit but said it was ironic that it came at a time when medical providers, including dentists, have seen insurers pay them more. “They are in the driver’s seat,” said spokesman Michael Chee.
It should be the best of times for Latino Health Care, the growing Long Beach-based physician management company and individual practice association catering to Latino patients.
It finished going public in late February in a reverse shell merger, receiving a new ticker symbol LCMC for over-the-counter trading. But the business advances have been tempered by the death of co-founder Dr. Roberto Chiprut last month in a Mexico City auto accident.
At the time of his death, Chiprut was chairman of the company’s IPA, but co-founder Jose Gonzalez said his business partner had become less involved in the day-to-day management of the company. He moved to Mexico two years ago to pursue other ways to serve Latinos.
Staff reporter Laurence Darmiento can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 237 or at