Self-directed regional networks: Connecting neighbors strengthens labs

The Pacific Rim Consortium met in person for the first time at the Hawaii Public Health Laboratory in March, 2019.

(Photo: The Pacific Rim Consortium met in person for the first time at the Hawaii Public Health Laboratory in March, 2019.)

How can a public health laboratory with limited resources sustain and expand its capabilities? One strategy is to leverage the resources and expertise of its neighbors.

With support from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), APHL is assisting with development of self-directed regional laboratory networks (SDRN) to facilitate collaboration and resource management among neighboring public health and environmental laboratories. SDRNs operate independently, establishing their own governance and strategic priorities based on their unique needs. Soon these networks will be linked through a Coordination Council, which will bring together representatives from each of the SDRNs for joint planning and resource development.

A growing community of networks

Today, 48 states and one territory, Guam, are members of an SDRN. The original SDRN was founded over forty years ago when laboratory directors in New England came together in the mid-1970s to share common concerns around newborn screening legislation then pending in multiple states. This group evolved to become the New England Public Health Laboratory Directors Group (NEPHLD), and then became NEEPHLD when it expanded its constituency to include laboratories responsible for environmental testing.

However, the regional model did not pick up momentum until a review by APHL and CDC demonstrated its value in the early 2000s. This provided the impetus to form the Northern Plains Consortium in 2006, the Southeast Consortium in 2015, the Mid-Atlantic Consortium in 2017, and the Midwest, Pacific Rim, Four Corners and Central Plains networks in 2018 and 2019.

Members “have our back”

SDRN member laboratories report many benefits from participation. Members share technical expertise, technologies and capacity, and they forge relationships with colleagues at other laboratories, making it easier to collaborate when emergencies arise or a testing system goes down. Emily Travanty, PhD, scientific director of the Laboratory Services Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports: “Our fellow consortium members have our back when we need them. For example, the Utah Public Health Laboratory did TB testing for us when our laboratory was in the midst of renovations. Because of them, we were able to still meet our test turn-around times and keep our customers happy.”

Members also collaborate on fundraising, informatics systems, training and leadership development, as well as recruitment and retention. According to Denise Toney, PhD, director of the Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services:

“The Mid-Atlantic Consortium provides a venue to share ideas, resources and expertise across our region so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. One project we worked on collectively was a compensation study, funded by CDC and APHL. Our members are using this data to educate their own state leaders about the salary levels needed to recruit and retain top-notch scientific staff in our region.”

SDRNs show strong prospects for the future, with planning in progress within and across networks. With sustainability a perennial challenge for state and local laboratories, that’s good news for public health.

The post Self-directed regional networks: Connecting neighbors strengthens labs appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Everything you need for Lab Week 2018

Everything you need for Lab Week 2018

Get ready for Lab Week! April 22-28 we will join our members and partners to celebrate the vital contributions laboratory professionals make to protect public health and safety in the US and around the globe. APHL will be particularly focused on the laboratory professionals who make up our community – the dedicated individuals working at local, state, environmental and agricultural laboratories which comprise the public health laboratory system.

We have lots of fun things planned this year! Scroll down for printable posters, downloadable graphics and more.

Follow APHL for our special Lab Week content (there might even be a contest on Facebook… hint hint…)!

While we celebrate our members, we also use Lab Week to increase awareness and demonstrate the importance of public health and environmental laboratories in our communities. We encourage you to do the same!

Below are some resources to help launch your own Lab Week celebration. These resources are for local, state, public health, environmental and agricultural laboratories alike!

Printable posters to display in your lab:

Everything you need for Lab Week 2018Graphics:

Sample social media posts (include a graphic or photo for added visibility):

Videos

Here are two animated videos to share with your public audiences. Feel free to share the link or embed on your website.

What exactly do public health laboratories do? Share these stories that highlight their work:

Encourage others to consider laboratory careers! Share these stories:

Celebration ideas:

  • Celebrate Lab Week internally with a social event, banners or other decorations.
  • Hold an open house for media, elected officials, school groups, staff families and other members of the public. Check out the Milwaukee Health Department Laboratory’s story about their health fair for students.
  • Visit local elementary, middle and high schools to talk with students interested in STEM disciplines.
  • Write an op-ed piece for local newspapers and/or magazines to highlight the valuable contributions your public health laboratory staff are making in your community, city and/or state.
  • Are you the lab director or section manager? Think of fun and meaningful ways to thank your staff for their dedication to public health.

Kick off Lab Week with an Earth Day celebration and carry it through the week!

  • Host a Green and Blue Day and ask staff to wear colors representing earth and water.
  • Hold a grounds-keeping afternoon: Invite staff and their families to help with weeding, mulch, planting, etc.
  • Ask if your regional EPA office plans to do something for Earth Day and join them as a partner.
  • Encourage employees to do Meatless Monday or purchase items at a local farmer’s market instead of the supermarket.
  • Encourage employees to Travel Differently on Tuesday carpooling, taking the bus, walking or riding their bike to work.

Check out the WEF-APHL environmental lab webcast: Introduction to the 2017 Method Update Rule

On April 26, 2018 1:00-3:00 pm ET, join Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) for a free webcast that will introduce certified laboratory personnel to the changes found in the 2017 Method Update Rule (MUR). Updates include EPA-promulgated changes to Clean Water Act analytical test procedures for analyzing chemical, physical and biological components of wastewater and other environmental samples. If you work at a state or local public health or environmental laboratory and/or are an APHL member, please email Sarah Wright before registering to receive a code to waive the $40 fee.

The post Everything you need for Lab Week 2018 appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

New Lab Matters: 100 Years of Influenza

New Lab Matters: 100 Years of Influenza | www.APHLblog.org

In 1918, no one even knew for sure that influenza was a viral disease; but then, the field of public health laboratory practice was still in its infancy. One hundred years later, public health is in a much better place, but critical preparedness gaps still persist. As our feature article shows, public health laboratories are working to keep their communities safe, through often difficult funding circumstances.

Here are just a few of this issue’s highlights:

Subscribe and get Lab Matters delivered to your inbox, or read Lab Matters on your mobile device.

 

Key words: APHL, public health, laboratory, laboratory testing, public health laboratory, laboratory assessment, Measles, bioinformatics, parvo, PFAS, chemical testing

The post New Lab Matters: 100 Years of Influenza appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

New Lab Matters: Cannabis testing and public health laboratories

New Lab Matters: Cannabis testing and public health laboratories | www.APHLblog.org

As it stands today, cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic, on the same US government list as heroin, ecstasy and other illicit drugs deemed to have high abuse potential. For 28 states and the District of Columbia where cannabis is legal for medical and/or recreational adult use, this is a huge problem, especially for state agencies and laboratories tasked with regulatory oversight and public health surveillance of cannabis safety.

In the spring issue of Lab Matters, our feature article examines how public health laboratories are responding to this unique challenge.

Here are just a few of this issue’s highlights:

Subscribe and get Lab Matters delivered to your inbox, or read Lab Matters on your mobile device.

The post New Lab Matters: Cannabis testing and public health laboratories appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

APHL’s March for Science Toolkit

APHL is a proud partner of the March for Science | www.APHLblog.org

APHL is a proud partner of the March for Science! We are champions for science everyday through our work and our support of laboratory scientists around the world. Science is the root of outbreak detection, prevention and response – without science there would be no public health. Our support is not about politics or opinions; it’s about standing with our colleagues, partners and members to strengthen the public health community by supporting science. The work we all do, whether as laboratory scientists or as support staff, is critical to protecting our communities from health threats.

APHL is a proud partner of the March for Science | www.APHLblog.orgWe at APHL are proud of the work that you do and we are excited to march in support of it!

March for Science
April 22, 2017

Washington, DC March for Science event details
Satellite March for Science events

Whether you’re participating in the March for Science in Washington, DC, at a satellite march, or in spirit from wherever you will be, we want to hear from you! Please share your photos, videos, audio recordings or written thoughts about the March for Science and its mission.

  • Tag #APHL in any March for Science posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest
  • Tag @APHL in any March for Science posts on Twitter and Instagram
  • Share on the APHL Facebook timeline
  • Tag yourself in any @APHL Instagram photos about the March for Science
  • Tweet us at @APHL with updates from the March for Science

APHL March for Science graphics:

Did you know April 22 is also Earth Day? And it is the first day of Lab Week? There is so much SCIENCE to celebrate!

  • Lab Week 2017 toolkit – There’s a Lab for That! APHL will celebrate the dedicated individuals working at local, state, environmental and agricultural laboratories which comprise the public health laboratory system.
  • Earth Day 2017

Help your friends and family better understand the work that you do by sharing these videos and blog posts:

The post APHL’s March for Science Toolkit appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

New Lab Matters: making the case for a public health emergency fund

Public health threats are unpredictable. In 2015 and 2016, the emerging threats were infectious diseases, but the next threat could be a chemical spill, radiological event or natural disaster. Without a source of comprehensive funding for all potential threats, the health of the American public cannot be adequately protected.

In the winter issue of Lab Matters, our feature article examines the benefits and challenges of a permanent, sustained public health emergency fund.

Here are more highlights from this issue:

Subscribe and get Lab Matters delivered to your inbox, or read Lab Matters on your mobile device.

The post New Lab Matters: making the case for a public health emergency fund appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Q&A with Hawaii’s state laboratory director

Q&A with Hawaii’s state laboratory director | www.APHLblog.org

We spoke with Chris Whelen, PhD, laboratory director of the Hawaii Department of Health State Laboratories Division, about the state lab’s work and what he loves about his job. Chris is also president-elect of APHL’s Board of Directors.

How did you first come to work at the Hawaii Department of Health State Laboratories Division?

Right place, right time. I was approaching 20 years of active military service in the United States Army and serving at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii when the Administrator position at the Hawaii Department of Health State Laboratories Division opened to external recruitment. The job appealed to me because I’ve always had an interest in population health. I was already familiar with reportable diseases and the Laboratory Response Network activities, so I was a pretty good fit, although I had a bit of a learning curve in other areas like ambient air monitoring and testing raw agricultural commodities for pesticide contamination.

How does a state public health laboratory fit into the state public health system?

Laboratory science is a great way to generate data to answer questions and make good, evidence-based decisions. A state public health laboratory performs testing that other labs are unwilling or unable to perform such as outbreak associated testing. For example, let’s say there’s a disease that has not presented in the community for years and therefore has had low test demand suddenly causes an explosive outbreak requiring extensive resources for several months before slipping away again. Responding to these types of situations does not fit into a commercial lab business model. Also, public health environmental labs can monitor for trends that can be identified well below the reportable contamination level, which means potential sources can be investigated, identified and eliminated before they cause harm.

What is the state lab’s role?

To be prepared to perform analyses that aid investigators and reassure the public. I know that may sound like a marketing sound bite, but it is true – and I really believe in it.

How does your lab work with other governmental labs in the state?

We work very closely with other labs – literally. We have a very nice laboratory facility, so we house the Department of Agriculture (DOA) pesticide lab and provide test support for DOA veterinary services like avian influenza and classical swine fever through our participation in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). I’ve also maintained close ties with Tripler Army Medical Center, which has been mutually beneficial.

How are state labs unique? What makes them different from local public health labs?

All states are a little different, so I’ll just speak about Hawaii. Here, the State Laboratories Division maintains three district labs on the Neighbor Islands in direct support of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island District Health Officers. They perform water quality testing and some CLIA regulated clinical testing. Hawaii District Health Lab also does FDA-regulated dairy and shellfish testing.

What is an example of a situation early in your time at the Hawaii Department of Health State Laboratories Division where you really felt the value of your work?

In my first year at State Labs, we launched an online process to renew clinical laboratory personnel licenses, which replaced archaic, expensive and labor-intensive postcard mailing procedures. After smoothing out the bumps immediately after launch, the benefits to both us and the community were pretty obvious. Licensed personnel quickly adapted to the online renewal, and when we added online payment during the next renewal cycle, over 90% of licensees paid electronically.

Over the last 10 years many things have been rewarding; from helping disease investigators in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands respond to outbreaks to preventing the importation of Salmonella tainted seafood to our supermarkets. I feel the value of the work produced by our State Laboratories on a daily basis. It gives me a rather selfish sense of pride.

What’s the wildest thing that you have seen or heard of coming through your laboratory?

An extremely unlikely set of circumstances led to an unusual diagnosis. We were collaborating with CDC to establish some clinical performance characteristics for a real-time PCR test for Angiostrongylus (rat lung worm) in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from patients with eosinophilic meningitis under an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved protocol. Colleagues at Kaiser Permanente were assisting by providing de-identified specimens and some clinical information. Another internal effort was using excess CSF from syphilis serology requests to evaluate test performance. Unexpectedly, one of those specimens repeatedly tested positive for Angiostrogylus DNA. As luck would have it, the original request for syphilis serology came from Kaiser. Because we had an approved protocol, I was able to ask the chief pathologist/ lab director to review the chart for suspicion of rat lung worm disease. The infectious disease consultant on the case called 30 minutes later verifying the clinical suspicion and relieved to have information on a potential diagnosis because, “we were testing for everything available;” thus the CSF syphilis serology. Additional testing at CDC confirmed our detection of Angiostrogylus DNA. That was a pretty good catch.

What is something you think most people don’t know about state public health laboratories?

That they exist. It is a constant battle trying to raise community awareness of the terrific work that occurs in public health labs, and whenever I get an interested individual or audience, they are amazed. A lot of my job involves trying to recruit new members of the Hawaii State Labs Fan Club.

(Pictured from left: Chris Whelen, Kris Rimando and Cheryl-Lynn Daquip)

 

Everything you need for Lab Week 2016

Everything you need for Lab Week 2016 | www.APHLblog.org

Lab Week is right around the corner! April 24-30 we will join several other laboratory associations to celebrate the vital contributions laboratory professionals make to protect public health and safety. APHL will be particularly focused on the laboratory professionals who make up our community – the dedicated individuals working at local, state, environmental and agricultural laboratories which comprise the public health laboratory system.

Follow APHL on Twitter and Facebook for our special Lab Week content! And make sure you are subscribed to our blog so you don’t miss any posts!

While we celebrate you, we also use Lab Week to increase awareness and demonstrate the importance of public health laboratories in our communities. We also encourage you to do the same! Here are some resources to help launch your own Lab Week celebration.

Social Media

Join the conversation using #LabWeek on any social network that uses hashtags (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) 

Sample tweets:

Graphics for web and social media are below.

Proclamations

Encourage your mayor and/or governor to officially declare April 24-30, 2016 as Lab Week. Here are some sample proclamations to send to their offices:

Graphics

What exactly do public health laboratories do? Share these stories that highlight their work:

Encourage others to consider laboratory careers! Share these stories:

Celebration ideas:

  • Celebrate Lab Week internally with a social event, banners or other decorations.
  • Open house for media, elected officials, school groups, staff families and other members of the public
  • Career day for local middle and high school students interested in STEM disciplines
  • Write an op-ed piece for local newspapers and/or magazines to highlight the valuable contributions your public health laboratory staff are making in your community, city and/or state.
  • Are you the lab director or section manager? Think of fun and meaningful ways to thank your staff for their dedication to public health.

National Environmental Laboratory Professionals Week (NELPW) toolkit

APHL Trainings
Get your team together during Lab Week for this webinar: Emerging and Resurging Infectious Diseases: 2016 happening April 26, 2016.

What is a public health laboratory?

What is a public health laboratory? | www.APHLblog.org

Public health laboratories keep us safe and healthy. But, hey, you know that! Do your friends and family? How about your elected officials? Help us spread the word about what these highly specialized laboratories are doing to protect us from infectious diseases, bioterrorism, environmental contaminants, foodborne illness and so much more.

What is a public health laboratory? from APHL on Vimeo.

Responding to the Animas River disaster: Who’s testing what?

by Megan Latshaw, director, Environmental Health, APHL

It was Saturday morning and my energetic six-year-old daughter was occupied for a moment, so I had a few seconds of quiet to scroll through my Twitter newsfeed. This photo of Colorado’s Animas River caught my eye and I immediately thought, “That has to be photoshopped.” I clicked the link and saw it wasn’t.

Responding to the Animas River disaster: Who’s testing what? | www.APHLblog.org“What’s going on?” I thought, as she bounded back in the room, tackling me with her typical exuberance. I squirmed up from underneath her and quickly retweeted the image, sensing it was something important.

Later the nation would learn that an EPA contractor accidentally released 3 million gallons of mine waste including metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic into the river, turning it the bright orange color that originally looked (and kind of still does) photoshopped despite being very real. (Photo by Josh Stephenson / Durango Herald)

As the story unfolded, the details revealed the seriousness of the situation. I decided to reach out to the state public health and environmental laboratories in the impacted states: Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Were they receiving requests to test the water and soil (AKA sediment)? Were they overwhelmed? Did they plan to look for contaminants in people who may have been exposed?

This type of event sends public health and environmental laboratories in impacted states into emergency response mode. That means putting normal day-to-day work aside (and possibly even day-to-day personal life if the lab has to move to a 24/7 shift work). This sets the stage for one of the biggest challenges seen in laboratories during many emergency responses such as this one: prioritization. In this case, sample submitters went from characterizing samples as either priority 1 or 2, to labeling all samples as priority 1. So instead of being able to put some samples on hold (priority 2) in order to address the priority 1 samples, all samples must be addressed as soon as possible. This presents a challenge to an already stressed laboratory.

In an effort to assist with lab-to-lab emergency response coordination, APHL held a conference call on August 19. Here is what we heard:

– Testing was being done by multiple entities including public health labs, commercial labs and EPA.
– The Colorado public health laboratory saw more than 100 samples from surface water, sediments, irrigation canals and private well water within the first two weeks. As of the 24th, they expect to return to normal surveillance levels.
– The New Mexico public health laboratory saw between 40 and 60 river water samples submitted for a full range of testing including metals. By the time we spoke, technicians had completed work on most of the samples, sending about 500 results over the period of about one week. The laboratory expects to do biomonitoring (looking for chemicals in blood or urine).
– The Utah public health laboratory had not receive any water samples yet but they anticipated receiving some from privately owned water wells along with human specimens. With those expected samples, they will look for metals in the local population as part of a previously planned biomonitoring study by the health department.

Fortunately, the public health labs in the states affected by this spill had the ability to test not only soil and water samples, but also to look for exposure to pollution in humans. This capability is largely thanks to the testing foundation put in place by the Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Threats (LRN-C). The LRN-C, which began as a network of public health laboratories with special skills and equipment to use in the event of a chemical terrorist attack, has expanded its priorities over the last decade to include assisting in response to accidents involving chemicals. Without investments in the LRN-C, there would not have been instruments or trained personnel to do the biomonitoring that is planned.

The labs responded just as they should have – they were quick and thorough in both testing and reporting. Thanks to their hard work, we know that concentrations in the water have gone down, but we need to know more; we need to understand what potential increases in exposure mean to the people who swam, drank or otherwise came into contact with the contaminated water. Biomonitoring will help do that. My colleagues and I will be watching closely and continuing to encourage the use of biomonitoring during environmental emergencies just like this.

I keep coming back to my six-year-old and how I would feel wondering if she had been exposed to high levels of metals. If I lived in one of the affected communities, I would want to know.

If you live in a community impacted by environmental contamination, and you think a laboratory might be able to answer some of your questions, please visit APHL’s Meeting Community Needs site.