United States

Better Communication Will Help Avoid Another Hep. A Outbreak: County

Critic says focus must be on reducing homelessness, and faults county's effort on that problem

San Diego County released a report on the Hepatitis A outbreak that killed 20 people and sickened almost 600 others in hopes of preventing another epidemic.

The 200-page “After Action Report” included 21 recommendations and a timetable for implementing those improvements.

The report suggested better coordination from officials, like having county and regional executives meet regularly during the outbreak to plan and execute strategy.

The county also wanted to train more public health and other county staff to better manage and respond to public health emergencies.

Other recommendations included:

  • Developing a notification process to better communicate information to local cities and government agencies, so they can help respond to the emergency.
  • Sharing information with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Public Health, and other agencies.
  • Working with doctors, nurses, clinics and other medical providers to vaccinate more at-risk patients, and minimize the chances of another virus outbreak.

The report praised several aspects of the county’s response, including its use of “foot teams” formed by county nurses, homeless service providers and law enforcement to vaccinate homeless populations that live in canyons, parks and riverbeds.

“This strategy proved highly effective in vaccinating those most difficult to reach, and the county has since shared information about how to conduct foot teams with numerous jurisdictions across the U.S.,” the report stated.

The last recommendation suggested the county, “Pursue broader solutions to addressing homelessness and illicit drug use.”

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell said the last recommendation should be the most important strategy moving forward.

McConnell was very critical of the county for what he feels was an unacceptably slow response to the Hepatitis A crisis.

"The homeless have built communities on our streets where the Hepatitis A crisis festered. So we have to look at what's led to that, and how we're going to do something to solve the homeless crisis," McConnell said.

McConnell said the county cannot honestly critique its own performance in the crisis, and he strongly endorses Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s request of a state audit of the city and county’s response to the Hepatitis A outbreak.

"There is no over-arching regional strategy, plan, goal or vision to reduce homelessness, even though we’re feeding the system with hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” McConnell said.

The county said its report was not intended to discuss the “broader issues of homelessness or illegal drug use or poverty,” but does acknowledge the importance of confronting those problems.

The report says the county has expended “significant resources” to the problem, and works with the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, the San Diego Housing Commission, and other agencies and service providers to “improve services and systems for people struggling with homelessness, mental health issues, addiction and poverty.

According to the report, the Hepatitis A outbreak has cost county taxpayers $12.5 million as of April 30th.

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