BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) — Many questions have been left unanswered following a national meningitis outbreak that has left 32 people dead and 440 people sick across the country.
“Frankly, the million dollar question to me in the end is …what do we need to put in place to make sure that this never happens again,” said state Health and Human Services Secretary Judy Ann Bigby at a public health hearing convened at the State House Wednesday.
There were several warnings. The Massachusetts pharmacy that produced tainted medications linked to the outbreak, the New England Compounding Center or NECC, had many complaints on the sterility, quality and safety of its operations. The Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy reacted to the complaints with letters of reprimand, softened penalties or no action at all.
“The individuals responsible for this failure to act have been removed from their jobs. Poor judgment, missed opportunities, and lack of appropriate action allowed NECC to continue on this troubling path,” said Massachusetts Bureau of Healthcare Safety Director Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo.
Officials said the public health system must have more checks and balances so that the inaction of a few does not cause the whole system to fall apart. They suggested tighter regulations, updated laws, aligning state and federal oversight and changing who sits on the Board of Pharmacy.
“Most of the people on the Board are pharmacists and I’m not sure, in fact I think they may all be, I’m not sure that strikes the right balance. That’s a legislative change,” said Gov. Deval Patrick.
House lawmakers will hold a second public health hearing on Wednesday, November 28 at the State House as well as a third at a later date to be determined. They will continue to discuss the meningitis outbreak as well as the state lab scandal that has compromised tens of thousands of criminal cases.
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