PITTSBURGH--Pennsylvania ranked last in the nation this year in distributing federal bioterrorism grants to the hospitals and public health agencies, according to a health association.
A survey by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers indicated that as of Aug. 31, the Pennsylvania Department of Health was holding onto about $16.5 million of its $49.6 million bioterrorism preparedness allocation, about one-third of the total.
Other states reported an average of 7.7 percent in unspent grant money, according to the Washington, D.C.-based association.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson has called the grants, which were made following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and anthrax scares, "a critical component to our national security."
The ranking surprised state officials.
"I think it certainly opened our eyes ... I think this report for our purposes is going to make us reassess how we're doing things," said Richard McGarvey, state Health Department spokesman.
Federal officials are encouraging Pennsylvania to distribute the money as quickly as possible, McGarvey said.
"We're doing it slower than other states, but we're getting it out to worthy projects," McGarvey said.
The money was earmarked for projects such as helping hospitals improve capacity to handle a large influx of admissions, add decontamination units and install air filtration systems. It's also been used for projects such as putting an electronic disease-reporting system online statewide, building a real-time disease surveillance system and increasing public health staffing.
Melissa Speck, director of Policy Development for the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, blamed much of the delay on Pennsylvania's contracting procedures, which treated each of the 178 hospitals that applied for the money as separate contractors.
"That award came in August 2003, and the money did not hit the hospitals, for some of them, until August of this year," Speck said.