The former Director for the Viral and Rickettsial Diseases Laboratory and brilliant HIV researcher, Dr. Michael Ascher, commented on how empty the new state-of-the-art laboratory was. Something to the effect “you could fire a rifle in the hall and no one would hear-witness it.” He is also an Army colonel, hence the firearm analogy. This was a public meeting, so I believe posting his comment here is compliant with department policy.
The point being, he made this comment prior to furloughs around 4 years ago when attending the Richmond campus conference on “The future of state public health laboratories”. He further commented that he attempted set up a project worth 5 million dollars between his new employer, Lawrence Lab Livermore, and the state lab, but that the state didn’t have the capability to take advantage of this opportunity.
The CDC of the West? It used to be that the CDC wished they could refer to themselves as the VRDL of the East. Our lab’s founder, Dr. Edwin Lennett, can be described as the founder of Diagnostic Virology. In order to be respectful of our current staff, I will not want say more about the state of things today. I will add that we have some great scientists, but the brain drain cannot be ignored. We look to CDC for guidance, but following their recommendations is difficult as a result of staff cuts and furloughs. And we are responsible for much of the training of the local (county) public health labs.
A person from CDC recently contacted me, asking about our response capability to some infectious agents. I informed him that I was not allowed to discuss-that he had to go through my chain-of-command. I did send him a web-link to a document describing delegation of authority at all government levels during emergency responses, highlighting the fact that if there is ever a breakdown in any response, people will expect accountability at all levels, including the CDC. If the job doesn’t get done, it better be clear why not. As resources dwindle, everyone needs to cover themselves, right?
There are those who believe all testing can be performed by private labs. The problem is that the private labs often slow-hinder our response time to public health emergencies. They perform the initial testing, then are unable to confirm or sort out the results. Judging from their response, it is unclear to me if they are even aware of the significance of some of the results they obtain. They often have tossed the remainder of the specimen, delaying the investigation even further. Private labs have their place, but they are no substitute for a public health lab. With more cuts, the scenario you will see more and more of is that of a patient specimen going from a private lab, to the state for some additional testing, then onward to the Feds (CDC) for the remainder. Or maybe the state will be bypassed altogether, at a time when the Feds are struggling as evidenced by long turn-around-times.
The erosion of our public health infrastructure has been in motion for years. Furloughs might just be the final and successful attack on our state public health lab and on my profession. It is as if the public has decided that public health is not needed until we see the bodies floating down the river.
These are my opinions and do not reflect those of my employer.