Sen. Mitt Romney wants to create a new health agency to protect against future public health disasters

The Center for Public Health Data, the agency proposed by Romney, would be aimed at boosting infectious disease preparedness by centralizing public health data.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mitt Romney speaks with the media following a Memorial Day ceremony at the Utah Capitol on Monday, May 30, 2022. Romney, on Thursday, July 28, 2022, said he wants to create a new public health agency aimed at protecting the country from future public health disasters.

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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney wants to create a new federal agency to strengthen the country’s preparedness against infectious diseases and future outbreaks.

Romney told reporters on Thursday he will propose a bill in the Senate to create the “Center for Public Health Data,” an agency to streamline the collection and distribution of public health information, which would be available to all levels of the government, hospitals, researchers and anyone who wants to access it, not just the federal government.

If supported by other federal lawmakers and the White House, CPHD would be housed under the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Romney’s office, in a news release, said the public health information already exists across laboratories and hospitals across the country, but the data, “is not shared quickly enough to drive decision making.”

“Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how the United States’ public health data reporting has failed to deliver critical and comprehensive information to the American people in order to respond to the pandemic. We had to stand up a brand new entity in short-order to respond, which was not a sustainable model and will not leave us prepared for the future,” Romney told The Salt Lake Tribune in a statement.

“We have again seen the shortcomings as monkeypox has started to spread around the country,” he added. “These failures show the need for reliable, real-time data during days of blue-skies so we can better prepare for and potentially prevent major outbreaks.”

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack and anthrax attacks of 2001, HHS was tasked to collect and maintain public health data in the event of a pandemic or other disaster. In the years since, according to the release, “HHS has failed to prioritize and deliver consistent, timely public health data for situational awareness, in part because HHS has failed to establish a lead agency to manage, oversee, and govern such a data system,” the news release said.

Romney’s office said these failures have led to miscommunications between national health systems and public health officials, led to the rise in Americans’ mistrust in their health institutions “and weakened our nationwide public health awareness for COVID-19 and it also continues to play out in the limited nationally available monkeypox data.”

Joseph Grogan, a former assistant to former President Donald Trump for domestic policy and a member of the COVID-19 Task Force, applauded Romney’s effort to modernize the country’s public health data reporting.

“The woeful state of public health data reporting has been a crisis for far too long and it has severely hampered America’s response to drug overdoses, food safety outbreaks, and infectious diseases, most notably COVID-19,” Grogan said in a statement released by Romney’s office.

The new agency would aim to create a single, streamlined data system that would provide the public with the most up-to-date health information possible.

Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, tweeted that Romney’s proposal is a serious effort to create the infrastructure needed to collect and share public health data more quickly and efficiently.

“Something must change,” Gottlieb said in a tweet. He wrote that real-time information is crucial to informing the government and public response to infectious diseases like COVID-19 and monkeypox.

According to the proposal, the data collected by the agency would not include personally identifiable information, as the hospital or clinic providing the information would remove that type of information before it would be sent to the Center for Public Health Data.

CPHD would not be responsible for enacting public health mandates, as the center would not be a regulatory body. The agency would aim to be “de-politicized, objective, and separate from regulatory and policy decisions, like mask mandates,” the news release says.

The Utah Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Thursday that it’s still reviewing the details of Romney’s proposal. They said using up-to-date data helps create the most effective system to help Utahns during a public health crisis.

“DHHS, as a data-driven organization, is always supportive of accurate, accessible public health data,” the department added. “We saw through the COVID-19 pandemic how important it is to have universal data publicly available.”

Kathy Wilets, the director of media relations at the University of Utah Health, said Thursday that the hospital group could not comment on the proposed plan.

“We’ll keep an eye on it and once we learn more, we’ll be in a better position to weigh in,” Wilets said in an email to The Tribune.

As of Thursday, it was not clear when Romney would present a bill creating the new agency to the Senate floor.