The Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 5, 2001
November 5, 2001
VOL. 31, NO. 10


Health Powers Act Would Help States Respond Quickly to Health Threats

By Tim Parsons
Bloomberg School of Public Health

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

At the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Center for Law and the Public's Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Georgetown University has developed the Model Emergency Health Powers Act to help states respond in a rapid, orderly way to bioterrorism, emerging epidemics and other public health emergencies. The Model Act was prepared for the CDC in collaboration with leading national organizations, including the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of Attorneys General, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and National Association of City and County Health Officers.

The goal of the draft legislation is to develop consensus-based model legislation for states that are considering new emergency public health legislation. States may adopt any or all of the resulting model legislation, as well as tailor it to meet their individual needs. The Model Emergency Health Powers Act draws together concepts and laws that are part of the foundation of public health law but are scattered throughout the legal system.

"We, as a nation, face public health threats that are potentially catastrophic. But we have tools to reduce both the likelihood of such catastrophes and their severity. The law has always proven to be one of the most effective tools in protecting the public's health and safety," says Stephen Teret, director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health and professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "This model law provides states with the emergency powers they need to address problems such as bioterrorism and the emergence of new, dangerous infectious diseases," Teret says.

The Model Act:

Grants specific authority to states and public health departments to take action to protect the health and safety of its population. Addresses the public health powers needed by authorities to respond effectively to the risk of mass civilian casualties. Authorizes the official collection of data and records, control of property, regulation of individuals and business, and access to communication.

Facilitates early detection of a health emergency and allows for immediate investigation of the emergency by granting access to individuals' health information under specific circumstances. Gives state officials the authority to appropriate and use property (including health care facilities) as necessary for the care, treatment and housing of patients and for the destruction of contaminated materials.

Protects the civil rights, liberties and needs of infected or exposed people when states must use compulsory powers to isolate or quarantine them.

Protects citizens' and state officials' access to reliable information regarding a health emergency.

"This Model Act goes a long way toward helping governors improve their public health infrastructure to respond to today's health emergencies," said John Thomasian, director of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. The model law conforms to both modern scientific and legal standards and is uniform in its approach to bioterrorism and other severe health threats.

For a draft copy of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act or to learn more about the Center for Law and the Public's Health, go to

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