Governor Patrick proposes to hire more pharmacy inspectors, expand other public health efforts

The troubled Department of Public Health would receive an additional $3.7 million in state funding to hire more inspectors to monitor compounding pharmacies and to increase other public safety efforts, under Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed budget released Wednesday.

The department came under scrutiny in the past year after back-to-back scandals, including a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak linked to tainted drugs produced at New England Compounding Center in Framingham. The state agency oversees the regulation of such pharmacies.

The new money includes $1 million specifically for hiring more people to inspect compounding pharmacies. An additional $2.7 million would cover about 30 staff members for other public safety efforts, such as monitoring food quality at restaurants.

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“This will be providing us enough [full-time-employee] support to do what we are mandated to do,” said John Polanowicz, who was sworn in this week as Health and Human Services secretary, replacing Dr. JudyAnn Bigby.

The budget also includes more state funding for the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain, though the facility’s budget overall would decrease nearly $300,000 to $12.5 million because of a drop in federal grants.

Until last summer, Hinton was home to the state drug lab, where chemist Annie Dookhan is accused of having tampered with samples, throwing into question thousands of drug convictions. Oversight of the drug lab was transferred in July to the State Police.

The Hinton labs continue to test for infectious diseases, mosquito-borne illnesses, rabies, food safety, and more.

No more funding was provided for home care services for some of the 1,000 seniors on a state waiting list, prompting immediate reaction from the AARP, a a nonprofit that advocates on issues facing people over 50.

“The time to end home care waiting lists is now – for our seniors, for their caregivers, for our commonwealth,” State Director Michael Festa said in a press release. “The vast majority of seniors want to stay in their own homes and communities as they age. Yet, long term-care in the Commonwealth is weighted disproportionately toward institutional care, leaving home care under-funded, seniors under-served, and caregivers over-stressed. This must change.”

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