member spotlight up here permanently , I would jump at that opportunity .” It came in 1999 , when Jilly got a call from an Alaska colleague who reported that the state PHL director had just resigned . Jilly applied for the job and assumed the post in 2000 .
The laboratory has 38 staff positions , down from 60 in 2000 , before world oil prices began collapsing , prompting a series of budget cuts . The day Jilly was interviewed for this article , his health physicist retired . Jilly said , “ He was the only radiation expert in the whole state . I ’ m supposed to have two , but I could never fill the second position .” Current staff include 25 microbiologists , three chemists , two physical plant workers and seven administrative staffers . The laboratory is actively recruiting for a Chemist 4 with mass spectrometry experience and a PhD-level scientist with molecular diagnostic experience to head the LRN-B lab .
The laboratory ’ s $ 7.5 million annual budget comes from federal grants ($ 3 million ), entrepreneurial contract work ($ 0.5 million ) and state funds ($ 4 million ).
The laboratory ’ s test menu is skewed toward infectious diseases , especially TB ( for which it is the sole test provider in Alaska ), Chlamydia , gonorrhea , hepatitis and viral influenza . It is a member of the Laboratory Response Network ( LRN ) for biological and chemical testing and the CDC Select Agent Program .
Molecular work ranges from identifying drug resistance and sensitivity markers in hepatitis C to sequencing clinical and foodborne isolates associated with foodborne disease outbreaks . The laboratory is the sole Alaska member of the APHL-CDC PulseNet foodborne disease surveillance network .
Laboratory chemists participate in the LRN for chemical testing . Work includes :
• 24 / 7 toxic alcohol and ethylene glycol analysis for local hospitals .
The microbiology staff at Alaska PHL
• Trace drug analyses for the state ’ s Children of Need program , mostly looking for exposure to illicit drugs to inform decisions about household safety .
• Limited work for the state medical examiner , mostly analyses of potential carboxyhemoglobin- or methemoglobin-containing specimens .
• Occasional testing for fentanyl , synthetic cannabinoids and the like .
• Finally , the laboratory maintains the only near real-time EPA radiation monitoring station in Alaska , which is situated atop the Anchorage facility .
Securing funding for two Illumina ® MiSeq next generation sequencing platforms . Scientists hope to present a paper on the Clostridium botulinum genome at an upcoming whole genome sequencing conference .
Building a succession plan : “ I managed to snag one of the last APHL-CDC Emerging Infectious Disease fellows , Jennifer Eastman , PhD , and she is my lab manager in Anchorage . I ’ m hoping for her to take my place when I retire . Additionally , the manager of the Fairbanks lab , Jayme Parker , is finishing her doctorate and is an active consultant for APHL ’ s international influenza activities .”
Investigating an invasive Group A Streptococcus aureus outbreak this past winter : “ The main outbreak started in Fairbanks and exploded among the homeless population in Anchorage . We had over 100 specimens / day for a few days . We found that a really unusual emm type of strep seemed to be causing the symptomatic disease .”
Funding : “ There ’ s never enough money to go around and an ever increasing amount of work to do . Because we are a specialty lab , we end up with the new and weird things that arise .”
Staffing : “ Usually we get people because their spouse relocates to Alaska . We have no medical school up here and only a small med tech program . There ’ s no pool to recruit from .”
Transportation : “ Only two cities are connected by road here , Anchorage and Fairbanks . If nurses go to a remote village to do a TB sweep , they have to travel by boat or , in winter , by snowmobile and bush plane . It can be challenging to get a specimen to the lab . Average transport is about a week when things go well . We ’ ve had some specimens not get to us in 30 days . And for something like a TB specimen , that ’ s real close to when the specimen goes south . Getting supplies and equipment up here is pretty expensive , because everything has to come by air .”
Informatics : “ The state government consolidated most IT staff in the central bureaucracy , so it is increasingly hard to get IT support familiar with all the complexities of the lab . We ’ ve managed to hang onto two IT staff here in the lab , but they are technically part of another group .”
Dealing with the rapid spread of culture-independent assays : “ How will we do our investigations when they ’ ve destroyed the bug [ in initial testing ]?”
“ I hope to keep the lab outfitted with the best technology we can get and to remain at the peak of our scientific capabilities . Right now , we ’ re upgrading our laboratory information management system , so we can finally entertain electronic test ordering and results reporting . We hope to be operational within the next 12 months , so we can get away from snail mail . Mail can take up to a month to get to certain places [ in the state ]. Electronic reporting will be more efficient and cost-effective . Ultimately , I ’ d like to keep the lights on and the doors open and do the best we can .” n
PublicHealthLabs @ APHL APHL . org
Summer 2017 LAB MATTERS 37