Lab Matters Summer 2019 - Page 34

MEMBERSHIP Promoting Community Wellness, Water Quality in Western New York by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer Erie County, New York, is situated along the northwestern-most foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and across Lake Ontario from Toronto, Canada. With four international border crossings, almost a million residents (including a large refugee community), a vibrant metropolitan core and over 13,000 acres of parkland and beaches, it offers both funky urban amenities and plentiful opportunities for outdoor recreation. The only metal kazoo factory in North America is here, as well as the Flying Bison brewery in the county seat of Buffalo. Niagara Falls is a short distance away, down the Niagara River. The Erie County Public Health Laboratory—part of the Erie County Department of Health (ECDH)—is one of the major laboratory providers in both Erie County and the larger Western New York region, focusing mostly on community wellness and water quality. “Even though our summer is short, it’s a very water-oriented area,” said Laboratory Director Carleen Pope, MS, MPH. Among the laboratory’s customers are local public health clinics, non-profit clinics, other ECDH programs, area jails, neighboring county health departments and area water systems. Environmental Supervisor Gary Paluca reviews plate counts for the environmental laboratory section. Photo: ECPHL Facility Located on the campus of the Erie County Medical Center—the primary trauma center for western New York—the laboratory takes up 20,000 square feet of a single-story building that previously housed the medical technology school for the University of Buffalo. The public health laboratory moved into the brick and concrete facility in 1999, after a complete remodel. Since then, the building has gained a BSL-3 suite (in 2003) and a new roof (2017), and will receive a new HVAC system (fall 2019). The facility is located in downtown Buffalo and shared with the Erie County Health Department’s Environmental Health Division—a big convenience for the sanitarians and water engineers who regularly submit samples to the laboratory for analysis. Director Pope has strong local roots. Born and raised in Buffalo, she earned a BS in Biology at nearby Niagara University and a MS in Natural Sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo), Roswell Park Cancer Institute Graduate Division. After completing these studies, Pope worked as a senior research technician at SUNY Buffalo and then as a research scientist in the private sector, developing molecular infectious disease assays and producing recombinant proteins for drug development with the aid of x-ray crystallography. “Some of the proteins I worked on were from infectious diseases, like SARS,” she said. “That piqued my interest in infectious disease and I re-enrolled in SUNY Buffalo and got my MPH.” At about the same time, Pope also began her public health laboratory career, starting out as chief of the emerging infections and biopreparedness laboratory at the Erie County Health Department laboratory. She stayed in that post for about five years, at which point the laboratory director left for a new job. Pope said, “We searched for about a year for a replacement, and we were unable to find anyone interested in the position as it was structured at the time for someone who met all CLIA and state regulations for directing a clinical lab. So our health commissioner restructured the organization of the laboratory—as she did for the medical examiner’s office previously—contracted with a physician to serve as medical director of the clinical lab, and created the division director position that I hold.” Since 2014, Pope has been the administrative director of the PHL, handling all day-to-day functions. Staff Environmental Microbiologist Nicole Hacic prepares samples for water quality testing. Photo: ECPHL 32 LAB MATTERS Summer 2019 The public health laboratory employs about 20 people, including approximately five environmental scientists, five clinical medical technologists and various administrative and scientific support staff. There are no current vacancies. PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org