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Public health emergency warrants state funding



Published: Fri, July 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



It was an impressive show of community caring in a crisis that had parents and children in Columbiana County shell-shocked. When two West Branch High School students died in late May after contracting a blood infection caused by a strain of meningococcal disease, Salem Community Hospital moved quickly to deal with this potential epidemic.

In a 48-hour period, the hospital dispensed antibiotics to treat about 22,000 people. Indeed, after a third case was identified -- the student from Marlington Local Schools in Stark County survived -- the hospital moved its vaccination program to a local school gymnasium to deal with the expected crowds. Hospital pharmacists obtained emergency deliveries of drugs from community pharmacies and drug company warehouses in Youngstown, Pittsburgh and central Ohio.

Salem Community Hospital never once mentioned money -- even though the meter was running. At the end of the 48-hour period, the cost to the hospital for the drugs totaled $110,000.

Alliance: There isn't any reason the hospital should bear that expense. Likewise, Alliance Community Hospital, which set up a clinic and provided more than 1,000 doses of medication free immediately after Jonathan Stauffer, 15, of Alliance and Kelly Coblentz, 16, of Salem took ill last month, deserves to be reimbursed.

The money should come from the state of Ohio because the two medical institutions were responding to a true public health emergency.

In a letter to Gov. Bob Taft, Columbiana County-area legislators, said of Salem Community's involvement, "This was a gargantuan effort pulled together with minimal notice in response to this local crisis. But when it was all over, the hospital was confronted with bills for the antibiotics."

We have no doubt that the governor and the Ohio Department of Health will move quickly to approve the reimbursement request from state Sen. Gregory L. DiDonato, D-Dennison, state Rep. Charles Blasdel, R-East Liverpool, and Howard E. Rohleder, Salem Community Hospital administrator and chief executive officer.

Although it is not known whether Alliance Community Hospital has submitted a similar request, we believe that it, too, qualifies for state assistance.

Reward: There's a compelling reason for the state of Ohio to recognize the extraordinary efforts of these two hospitals: it will ensure that future public health crises will receive the full attention of the medical profession.




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