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Mass. to hold hearings on state health department

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BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts Department of Public Health will be under the microscope at public hearings called by legislators to examine its handling of two recent crises.

A chemist at a now-closed state lab operated by the department has been accused of mishandling drug tests over a nine-year period. The scandal has threatened to unravel thousands of criminal cases around the state.

The state pharmacy board, also under the auspices of DPH, has come under scrutiny in the wake of a fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a steroid distributed by a compounding pharmacy in Framingham. The outbreak has sickened 377 people nationwide, and 28 have died.

The first hearing, to be held at the Statehouse on Nov. 14, will look at the department's oversight of pharmacies in Massachusetts.

A second hearing, on Nov. 28, will examine procedures at the former state lab.

A third hearing, yet to be scheduled, will take a broader view of oversight and transparency in the department.

State Rep. Harold Naughton, House chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, said recent developments point to a "dysfunctional" agency.

"What's clear is that there are many tremendous employees in the Department of Public Health, people doing a great job, but what is also clear is that there has been some negligence, some malfeasance, maybe some downright maliciousness," said Naughton, D-Clinton.

Naughton announced the hearings on Thursday with Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, and Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Boston, who chairs the Legislature's public health committee.

Linsky said the hearings could prompt new legislation when the House and Senate reconvene in January.

Lawmakers will also consider a separate request from Gov. Deval Patrick for $30 million to cover the initial costs of the drug testing crisis.

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