Hepatitis scare escalates health department debate - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Hepatitis scare escalates health department debate

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) -

More than 2,500 people who may have been exposed to the hepatitis A virus were vaccinated this weekend, about half the number the Lubbock Health Department expected.

The City of Lubbock agreed to reimburse University Medical Center $260,000 for the cost of the vaccine, but after this low turnout, the city has thousands of vaccines left over.

"We are discussing in six months having a second shot clinic, because there is really a second shot requirement to have full immunity," City of Lubbock Health Department Director Bridget Faulkenberry said.

The health department estimated more than 7,700 people were exposed at Cheddar's between Aug. 31 and Sept. 8. The city may consider having vaccines available at the health department for people who didn't go to the clinics.

The city is planning to use money from the general fund to pay back UMC.

This scare comes after weeks of heated debate about the closing of the Lubbock Health Department.

In just one week, the Health Coalition of Lubbock has collected nearly 1,600 signatures on a petition dedicated to keeping the health department open.

One of the coalition members, Psychologist Brian Carr, says closing the Health Department would be detrimental to the public's health.

"I've not been able to identify any city of Lubbock's size that has done anything like what we're talking about here. It just isn't done," Carr said. "If we have another scare such as recently with the hepatitis A, we will not be in a position to respond. We'd be in a bad situation for the entire community."

The initial proposal to shut down the health department was made to help save the city money, but the Lubbock City Council granted a 90-day extension while the Board of Health conducted research on the advantages and disadvantages of keeping it open.

If the shutdown is approved, the city would close the health department building, but would outsource the grant money for things like immunizations and STD clinics to other agencies around Lubbock.

"The health department is not closing," Faulkenberry said. "We still have a surveillance department that handles situations like the hepatitis A scare. We will continue to have the surveillance department in the future and no services are going to be eliminated. Some are just going to be moved to different locations."

Carr, also a member of the Board of Health, says outsourcing these services will raise questions of accountability.

"They're not under the control of the city anymore, except for the money they get awarded to them. If something happens to those agencies and they decide to return that grant money [or] otherwise discontinue the service, who does it fall back on? There will be no health department building, no health department staff," Carr said.

Carr doesn't believe closing the building will save the city money.

"We're not even sure it's going to save money because of the extra costs. The health department was short staffed because staff had been terminated. With this last vaccination scheduled they had to hire agency nurses who are terribly expensive," Carr said.

Carr hopes many concerned citizens will come to the town hall meeting Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be located at St. John's Methodist Church off 15th Street and University.

There will be a panel of experts present to answer questions. There will also be food, a health fair and music.

For more information about the Health Coalition of Lubbock and their petition, visit their web site at www.publichealthlubbock.com.

Copyright 2011 KCBD NewsChannel 11.

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