Lab Matters Winter 2020 | Page 8

PUBLIC HEALTH PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE Restoring Core Public Health Services to Ensure Public Safety By Chris Mangal, MPH, director, Public Health Preparedness and Response and Tyler Wolford, MS, manager, Emergency Preparedness and Response assessments, the APHL team collaborated with the Puerto Rico Department of Health and CDC staff to create plans for restoring testing services. This set the stage for an elevated response to restore core public health services in Puerto Rico and other jurisdictions impacted by the 2017 hurricanes. In December 2018, APHL was awarded a $15.1 million cooperative agreement by CDC to provide technical assistance for response to public health crises in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and Houston. Key APHL activities in these jurisdictions include: • human resource capacity building • equipment and supply procurement • training and travel support • partnering with experts to develop and implement systems, such a public health data exchange. Staff at the Puerto Rico Department of Health train on newly-acquired next generation sequencing instrumentation More than two years have passed since multiple hurricanes devastated the Caribbean and parts of the southern United States. In the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico, millions of people were without power, clean water and other basic necessities for months. In parts of Florida, Louisiana and Texas, mandatory evacuations and major flooding forced people out of their homes and into shelters. In the continental US, essential public services, such as water and power, were restored in a timely manner. However, US territories in the Caribbean posed unique challenges to rebuilding the infrastructure. Even today, work to restore essential public services remains a priority. 6 LAB MATTERS Winter 2020 Key Preparations APHL responded to the storms even before they hit. Following established procedures, the association activated its Incident Command Structure and began hosting calls with members and partners to prepare hurricane response plans. Immediately after the hurricanes, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and APHL sent a team of experts to assess damage to six Puerto Rican laboratories located across the island. These laboratories deliver essential public health testing services: evaluating the quality of water and milk, detecting pathogens causing contagious diseases and supporting reference microbiology. Puerto Rico needed them back in operation as quickly as possible. After the Due to the urgent jurisdictional needs and shortened time frame of the cooperative agreement, APHL has worked across the organization to modify many of its internal processes in order to expedite contracting, procurement, and human resources processes to speed up completion of the activities. Expanding and Developing the Workforce In an initial three-month surge, APHL hired more than 30 staff to support Puerto Rico and four staff to support USVI. To date, 48 positions have been filled in Puerto Rico and 13 in USVI, dramatically increasing the jurisdictions’ capability and capacity to provide essential public health services. These services include, but are not limited to, expanded laboratory testing, improved epidemiological support and an increase in immunization program activities. APHL also facilitates travel for territorial staff to key training courses and national conferences to enhance their knowledge and skills. PublicHealthLabs @APHL