Eastern Washington Bioterrorism Lab Funding Extended
Spokane Regional Health District Board of Health votes to use general fund dollars to temporarily fund lab for six months
For more information, contact Kim Papich, SRHD Public Information Officer (509) 324-1539
SPOKANE, Wash. – June 3,2014 – At its regularly-scheduled monthly board meeting in May, Spokane Regional Health District’s (SRHD) Board of Health (BOH) voted for SRHD to use general fund dollars to fund eastern Washington’s bioterrorism laboratory operations for an additional six months. During that period, if long-term funding cannot be secured, the lab will close Dec. 31, 2014.
“SRHD and its partners worked tirelessly for nearly the last two years to secure a lasting source of funding for this eastern Washington/north Idaho asset, but to no avail,” said Dr. Joel McCullough, health officer for Spokane Regional Health District. “Our board of health is making a final attempt to rally our community around sustaining the lab. Given the numerous law enforcement and response benefits the lab lends, we are hopeful our stakeholders will step up to the challenge of funding the lab for the long haul.”
Eastern Washington’s bioterrorism lab has tested both environmental and clinical samples for threatening substances including plague and infectious diseases, as well as letters containing the toxin ricin. Staff also tested powder from the backpack involved in the Martin Luther King, Jr. parade incident in 2011.
In operation since 2003, the lab was funded by federal grants from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration to enhance statewide laboratory capacity. A consolidated contract was given to the health district with the lab’s development costing approximately $1 million. In recent years, a poor national and state economy reduced public health funding, impacting many regional and local programs, including bioterrorism preparedness and prevention. Funding for the lab, which cost approximately $160,000 annually, began to dwindle in 2011 and has since ceased.
Being able to test samples locally allows a more rapid response. Without the laboratory, these samples will be sent to the Washington State Public Health Laboratory, located in Shoreline, Wash. The delay in response time would range from hours, to up to a day, depending on the ability to get samples securely packaged and shipped.
BOH members proposed and voted on the six-month use of general fund dollars during their meeting on May 29, 2014. SRHD’s 12-member board includes the three Spokane County Commissioners, three Spokane City Council members, the City of Spokane Valley Mayor and a City Council member, one elected official representing associated small cities, and three citizen representatives. Again, if funding and a plan are not secured, the lab will close on Dec. 31, 2014. Once the laboratory is closed, it will stay closed, as capital costs to start it up again would be too great.
For more information about the health district’s board, go here http://boh.srhd.org/. Information can also be found on the health district’s site at www.srhd.org. The site also offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth.