Lab Matters Fall 2017 - Page 36

member spotlight Supporting Public Health in Growing King County by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer King County, Washington, is renowned for its coffee shops, fish markets and high-profile corporate denizens, including Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks and Microsoft. But the trait that most impacts the work of the local public health laboratory is its high rate of growth. The county—which stretches from the crest line of the Cascade Range in the east to Puget Sound in the west—is home to about 2.1 million residents. And while the jurisdiction is sparsely populated in the mountainous inland, it grows increasingly urban as one travels seaward, toward the county seat of Seattle, where 700,000 people live in the roughly 10-mile-wide strip of land between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington. This densely populated area, said Paul Swenson, PhD, director of the Seattle- King County Public Health Laboratory, is “just going nuts” with growth. For two years running, Seattle has been named the crane capital of the country, surpassing New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and every other US city in the number of construction cranes at work. “The city continues to add thousands of high-paying jobs, which drives the cost of housing up,” said Swenson. Yet, he said, “The high cost of housing isn’t keeping people from coming to Seattle.” Local voters just approved a $54 billion dollar ballot measure to expand light rail services and alleviate congestion on city streets. As a program in the local health department, Public Health–Seattle & King County (PHSKC), the laboratory’s workload rises with the population. Said Swenson, “Our health department operates a number of clinics to serve high-risk populations. That drives almost all the work that we do.” Facility The laboratory takes up 5,000 square feet in the basement of the West Clinic of Harborview Medical Center (HMC), a specialty care facility (including a world-renowned Level 1 trauma center) run by the University of Washington. “Before moving here in 1997,” said Swenson, “our lab was located in downtown Seattle in the Public Safety Building, which was slated for demolition.” At the time, a voter- approved bond financed brand new laboratory construction and equipment in the county-owned HMC building, which is situated just east of Interstate 5 overlooking Elliott Bay and the downtown area. Laboratorians enter the building through the main hospital entrances and then through a separate laboratory entrance off one of the main basement hallways. Swenson stressed that “although we’re located in the medical center, we’re a Public Health–Seattle & King County program. We don’t serve the hospital, for the most part; we’re just located here, along with several other public health programs, because the [HMC] buildings are all owned by the county.” The laboratory is primarily a BSL-2 facility, but has a 200-square-foot BSL-3 suite reserved for TB work. Director Swenson was born and raised in Seattle and earned his undergraduate degree at Seattle University. After college graduation, he relocated to the East Coast for six years to study clinical and laboratory microbiology at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). He did his doctoral work under the direction of Mario Escobar, PhD, and postdoctoral training, also at MCV, under the direction of Harry Dalton, PhD. Seattle & King County Laboratory Staff. Back row (l to r): Song Cho, Paul Swenson, Abebe Woldai, Sokkhanha Esteban, Kristine Mejilla, Robin Cowan, Azza El-Sabaeny. Front row (l to r): Barbara Treen, David Ewing, Justin Nguyen, Candice Le, Alfred Iqbal. Photo: PHSKC 34 LAB MATTERS Fall 2017 “When I finished the post-doc,” Swenson said, “I moved to New York and directed the clinical virology laboratory at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island. I was there for five years, until I returned to Seattle in 1986 to take over as the director of the public health laboratory here. ... It was actually hard to leave New York. I had a position there that I was very happy with. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come back home.” PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org