Governor Martin O'Malley Highlights Public Health Priorities
O'Malley unveils bio-surveillance system, announces health studies funding for Prince George's Community College
State health officials outline H1N1 preparations and response efforts
LARGO, MD (August 24, 2009) – Governor Martin O’Malley today highlighted public health efforts, including a new acute-care hospital disease and bio-terrorism surveillance system and $18.1 million in funding for a state-of-the-art Heath Studies Center at Prince George’s Community College. The announcement comes as Maryland acknowledges seventh H1N1-related death as health officials continue preparations for an expected increase in the virus and seasonal flu in the coming months.
“Protecting the health and safety of every Maryland family now and in the future means that we must invest in the education and training of our next generation of health care professionals,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “We are preparing to face the serious health challenge of H1N1 flu in the months ahead. We do so as we launch our ESSENCE surveillance system with 100 percent of Maryland hospitals participating. Protecting the health of the people of Maryland must remain among our core priorities even in difficult economic times.”
Governor O'Malley's announcements today come following a tour of the Prince George's Community College Health Sciences Division with students. There, the Governor announced $18.1 million in funding for a new, state-of-the-art Health Studies Center, including Nursing Unit, Mock ICU, Paramedic Lab and Health Information Lab. This funding is part of an overall investment of $23.3 million in Prince George's Community College, illustrating the O'Malley-Brown Administration's commitment to higher education and to strengthening the state's outreach efforts in industries experiencing growth even during tough times, including health and life sciences.
Economic experts believe that the economic resurgence is most likely to benefit the sectors of health care, sustainability, and information technology, which are all areas where Maryland excels and enjoys a competitive advantage. Education and health services sectors in Maryland grew by 2.5 percent last year, gaining 9,400 jobs. Maryland’s professional, scientific, and technical services sector gained 4,200 jobs.
“Today's students will be facing similar serious health care challenges when they graduate,” said John M. Colmers, Secretary for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “While Maryland is, for the moment, experiencing a brief lull in reported cases of H1N1 (swine) flu, we are preparing for the worst in the face many unknown variables. Will the virus mutate into something more serious? Will enough people get a seasonal flu shot and H1N1 vaccinations to help stop the spread of flu before it infects tens of thousands of residents? These are questions Maryland’s public and private health professionals are working on to protect people from getting sick or dying in the coming flu season.”
Maryland is the first state in the nation with 100 percent voluntary statewide hospital participation in ESSENCE (Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics) by 46 acute-care hospitals. The computer-based ESSENCE system gathers symptom data reported in hospital emergency rooms to track disease outbreaks, public health emergencies and suspicious patterns of illness that could serve as an early warning for chemical and bio-terrorism attacks.
In addition to the ESSENCE system, the O’Malley-Brown Administration has made steady progress to enhance the state of Maryland’s homeland security and emergency preparedness, including, for the first time, the development of a fully interoperable communications system for all local and state public safety and emergency response agencies throughout Maryland. Maryland has also established stockpiles of antiviral medications to protect Maryland’s state and local first responders, healthcare workers, and critical infrastructure sector.
The daily reporting of emergency room data and the ESSENCE tracking of over-the-counter medications at hundreds of Maryland pharmacies is currently being combined with other disease surveillance techniques to monitor the spread of H1N1 swine flu across the state.
Based on CDC figures, it is estimated that 1,000 Marylanders die every year from seasonal flu or its complications. Complications and death are more common among those with serious underlying health conditions.
According to the CDC, people at a higher risk of serious health consequences from the H1N1 flu virus are the same as those with seasonal flu:
- Children less than 5 years old
- Persons aged 65 years or older
- Pregnant women
- Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities
- Adults and children who have chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, hepatic, hematological, neurologic, neuromuscular, or metabolic disorders
- Adults and children who have immunosuppression (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by HIV)
- Children and adolescents (less than 18 years) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who might be at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection
As with seasonal flu, the best protection from contracting or spreading the novel H1N1 flu virus is to practice good personal hygiene:
- Wash your hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing, and wiping or blowing the nose
- If you have flu symptoms, stay home and avoid contact with other people to protect them from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing
- Use paper tissues when wiping or blowing your nose; throw tissues away after use
- Stay away from crowded living and sleeping spaces, if possible