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House Hearing Explores Agencies’ Response to Ebola Outbreak

October 31, 2014—House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Oct. 24 held a hearing titled, “The Ebola Crisis: Coordination of a Multi-Agency Response.” Members heard testimony from the private sector as well as federal officials involved in the response, including Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie, M.D., and officials from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

The hearing was held one day after Craig Spencer, M.D., tested positive for Ebola in New York City after returning from West Africa where he served with Doctors Without Borders. In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) praised New York for “diligently” preparing for and handling its first Ebola patient. However, he said “we must continue to be vigilant and continually reevaluate our protocols and training procedures to protect our healthcare workers.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) also commended healthcare professionals in New York City and at Bellevue Hospital for their work responding to the state’s first case of Ebola. She described the training and drills that have taken place and the coordination between city’s hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the state’s health departments. She noted there were clear policies in place “to ensure that nurses and all staff caring for the patient follow the strictest safety guidelines and protocols.”

Rep. Maloney asked Dr. Lurie about how funding for the Hospital Preparedness Program helps ensure hospitals are prepared to respond to health emergencies, such as Ebola. Dr. Lurie said the program helps the healthcare system become prepared by providing funding for training, planning, and the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE), among other necessities. She said she believes it is the reason that Bellevue and other hospitals in New York City “have been able to do such a tremendous job getting ready for this. And we will continue to support them through this program and others as they move forward.”

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) raised the private sector’s role in developing vaccines and treatments, but noted it is not always in their financial interest to do so and asked what the government is doing to address these gaps. Dr. Lurie described how investments in the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) “ensure that product developers and manufacturers will step up to the plate and work on these important threats.” She continued, “were it not for the investments in bio-defense… we would be nowhere near where we are now with the safety testing of two promising vaccine candidates [for Ebola].”

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) expressed concern about funding cuts to public health program and agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and CDC. She said the federal government should regularly identify what the risks are if programs are not adequately funded as well as the impact on states that rely on federal funding for preparedness training and response.

Several members raised concerns about containing and combating Ebola at its source. Ranking Member Cummings said that the nation has a “moral obligation” to stop Ebola, but he added that “addressing the Ebola crisis in Africa is also in our self-interest as a nation. Public health experts warn that to protect Americans here at home, we need to address this outbreak at its source in Africa. The longer the outbreak continues, the more likely it will spread to the rest of the world, including more cases right here in the United States of America. And if we do not take strong action now, it will cost much, much more in the long run.”

Other topics discussed by the panel include the implementation of proper protocols for healthcare workers, the length of the quarantine period, airport screenings and travel bans, and concerns for the safety of military personnel in Africa and healthcare workers.

The same day as the hearing, a group of 19 organizations, including AAMC, sent a letter  to White House Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan, expressing “support for robust and sustained funding of public health emergency and biosecurity programs” administered by HHS, including the HPP and BARDA.


Alexandra Khalife
Legislative Analyst
Telephone: 202-828-0418


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