Lab Matters Winter 2018 - Page 30

member spotlight Urban Growth and Rural Tradition at the Oregon PHL by Nancy Maddox, MPH, writer Almost half of Oregon’s four million residents are clustered into the tri-county Portland area in the northwest corner of the state. And why not? Condé Nast Traveller calls Portland “the hippest city in the USA.” From craft beer to abundant farmland to the high-tech Silicon Forest, Oregon is filled with contrasts. The western third enjoys a temperate climate and year-round lushness, while the eastern portion, in the rain shadow of the imposing Cascade Range, features high desert and volcanic rock. The needs of Oregon residents contrast nearly as much as the geography. In the last few years, populations in Portland and Bend have risen rapidly, and, in Portland alone, 120,000 more people are expected in the next few years. Yet, alongside the urban expansion, families in rural Oregon also need access to health care. John Fontana, PhD, HCLD(ABB), who heads the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory (OSPHL), views the contrast as a key public health challenge—from accrediting cannabis testing laboratories to providing testing for the underserved people in Oregon to adapting new technologies. “All to achieve the goal of keeping the ‘public’ in public health,” Fontana said. Oregon State Public Heath Laboratory Staff. Photo: OSPHL 28 LAB MATTERS Winter 2018 Facility Staff The 40,000-square-foot laboratory occupies about half of a red brick, concrete and glass building located about 10 miles outside Portland in Hillsboro. Though it was completed in 2002, it remained vacant until the state invested $35 million to meet the needs of a fully- functional public health laboratory. “We were the first occupants in 2008,” said Fontana. The other half of the building is home to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Laboratory. OSPHL employs about 75 people, including 33 microbiologists, 12 medical laboratory technicians, eight managers and supervisory managers, two on-site IT staff, nine support staff and five laboratory compliance inspectors who oversee the accreditation of the state’s clinical (CLIA) and environmental testing laboratories, including Oregon’s 20 cannabis testing laboratories. The laboratory is actively recruiting a general microbiology manager and two microbiologists. “I’m continually impressed with the level of dedication and quality of work every section of the lab, despite all the changes we’ve had to deal with,” Fontana said. Director Fontana was born in Massachusetts, earned his BS at Clark University in Worcester and studied pathology at the University of Vermont. “And that’s where I became enamored with labs,” he said. “It was the first time I worked in a lab, and it was great. I always wanted to be in a lab after that.” After finishing his master’s degree, Fontana returned to Massachusetts as chief of virology at the State Laboratory Institute (now the Hinton Laboratory), where he stayed for 18 years, moving from virology to enteric pathogens and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). During that time, he earned a PhD in biomedical sciences from Worcester Polytechnic Institute—with a thesis on the transfer of antibiotic resistance in Salmonella—and board certification from the American Board of Bioanalysis. In 2005, Fontana left Massachusetts for the biological sciences section of the Connect icut public health laboratory (now the Katherine A. Kelley State Public Health Laboratory). When Katherine Kelley passed away in 2007, Fontana was asked to become laboratory director, a post he filled for seven and a half years. He assumed the directorship of OSPHL in 2015. “It was a good fit for me. The lab had a good reputation and I was familiar with most of the testing going on.” Revenue OSPHL’s two-year $35 million budget comes from state general funds (9%), newborn screening (NBS) fees (60%), other fees (14%) and federal agreements (17%). Federal sources include CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases Cooperative Agreement (ELC), the Emerging Infections Program (EIP), the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement and a Tuberculosis grant. The laboratory also receives funding for its drinking water primacy from the US Environmental Protection Agency, is a member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (FDA NARMS) and is supported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for the cost of CLIA inspections. Testing OSPHL serves all 34 county jurisdictions, covering an area of about 100,000 square miles, and receives over 400,000 specimens annually. Its focus is on providing testing to support public health programs, which includes specialized reference testing for clinical laboratories and county health departments, as well as newborn screening (NBS) to PublicHealthLabs @APHL APHL.org