Lab Matters Summer 2017 - Page 13

feature SHL clinical lab supervisor Ryan Jepson leads former Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds on a 2014 tour, with SHL Director Christopher Atchison (second from left) and Drew Fayram, SHL CALS coordinator and former EID Fellow (now SHL biosafety officer). Photo courtesy of the State Hygenic Laboratory at the University of Iowa Sharing the Value of Public Health Laboratories by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer When Christopher Atchison, MPA, became director of Iowa’s University Hygienic Laboratory a decade ago, one of the first things he did was change its name to the State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) at the University of Iowa: “We’re a state agency. I want the legislature to think about us as a state agency.” That simple act of advocacy paid off. When the Iowa legislature drafted, and passed, the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Act earlier this year, it listed only one laboratory by name as an option for mandatory “spot check testing” of cannabidiol products produced in state: the SHL. For a facility that “lives or dies on volume,” that is a success. Said Atchison (who retired June 30), “Restoring that historic name gives us more recognition as a state laboratory [as distinct from any of the other labs located on any of Iowa’s three state university campuses].” He said, “What that [bill] tells me is that we have achieved the purpose of being seen as a resource in the area of science. That’s more significant than people might realize.” Indeed, at a time when government budgets are under threat, visibility can be PublicHealthLabs @APHL a lifeline. Said Chris Whelen, PhD, head of Hawaii’s Department of Health State Laboratories, “As laboratory scientists, you’re not in the spotlight; you’re the supporting cast. And lab folks kind of like it like that. But anonymity is a bit of a liability, especially when you’re trying to advocate for resources. If folks don’t know you exist, they don’t know why they’re spending money on you. And they certainly don’t want to give you more.” The need for a laboratory voice in budgetary discussions has become more urgent in the past year. According to a recent Washington Post report, “More states are facing financial trouble than at any time since the economy began to emerge from the Great Recession...and will grow more dire as the Trump administration and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill try to cut spending and rely on states to pick up a greater share of expensive services such as education and health care.” Summer 2017 LAB MATTERS 11