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Lawmakers Advance Bill To Study State Response To Hepatitis A Outbreak

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Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ask the state’s health cabinet to review its response to a deadly hepatitis A outbreak in Kentucky.

The outbreak began in 2017 and has led to more than 4,100 confirmed cases and 43 deaths.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville and sponsor of the bill, said that he is not assigning blame for the outbreak “because we don’t have any answers.”

“This is to look at the local health departments, the response that the Cabinet had to say what happened, how did it happen and how can we prevent it from happening in the future,” McGarvey told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 154 calls for Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services to examine the outbreak and make recommendations for how to make future responses more effective.

The bill unanimously passed out of committee and is now eligible for a vote in the state Senate.

The proposal follows a recent Courier Journal investigation that showed the state’s response to the outbreak last year was slow, especially in rural areas.

Officials with the state health cabinet defended their response to the outbreak, saying that local health departments have “near complete autonomy” about how to spend money and deal with the outbreak.

The administration has also said it supports the measure to study the response.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Republican from Winchester and chair of the committee, said that he supported the measure.

“We’ve had bills before us about hospital peer review, and this is kind of a state peer review to take a look at how we’re doing and how we can get better at this,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado is a physician and a candidate for lieutenant governor on Gov. Matt Bevin’s re-election campaign this year.

McGarvey said he isn’t sponsoring the resolution for political reasons.

“This is not a political issue for us. 4,100 infected, 43 died. I don’t know if these were Democrats, I don’t know if they were Republicans — I know they were Kentuckians,” McGarvey said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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