Physician to Get Broader Powers

Posted December 12, 2003 at 5:49pm

By Suzanne Nelson Roll Call Staff Language in the omnibus appropriations bill would give the Attending Physician the authority to “enact quarantine and to declare death” in response to a bioterrorism event or other health emergency on the Capitol grounds.

The House passed the measure, which funds most domestic agencies for fiscal 2004, last week. Although the Senate didn’t bring it to a vote, sources said the language is likely to remain in place when Congress takes up unfinished appropriations in January.

Specifically, the legislation gives Dr. John Eisold the responsibility for overseeing the use of medical assets in case of bioterrorism or other “medical contingencies or public health emergencies.”

A Republican House aide said the language simply codifies what should have already been on the books. “Prior to now there has been no set authority for overseeing these things.

“This is basically one of the security recommendations that was given to the Speaker’s office. It would give the Attending Physician the same authority that any other public health officer would have,” the aide added.

“This shall include the authority to enact quarantine and to declare death,” the language states. It mandates that Congress’ physician work in close cooperation and communication with the commissioner of public health, the chief medical examiner and other D.C. public health officials.

The proposed authority is part of a larger effort to strengthen the Attending Physician’s role in terrorism preparedness. Earlier this year his office vaccinated dozens of Capitol Police officers against smallpox. Medical personnel have also been vaccinated.

In fiscal 2002, the office acquired a mobile medical unit that can be rapidly deployed if the Capitol’s medical offices become uninhabitable. The Attending Physician’s office has also spent more than $60,000 on various inoculations and pharmaceuticals, for hepatitis and yellow fever, among other immunizations.