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Yesterday, I had my heart broken. To be frank, it was predictable. It has happened in the same way many times before.
For 13 years, my citizenship passion project has been tuberculosis and more general public-health-disaster-preparedness in Massachusetts. Our state and regional CDC (the Massachusetts State Public Health Laboratory Institute) is New England's bulwark against infectious potential epidemics and threats (TB, Ebola, mosquito and tick-borne illness, rabies, bioterrorism, chemical hazards, food poisoning, etc.), chemical hazards, and bioterrorism. And, for 13 years, as my colleagues and I have worked every budget season to educate legislators and attract press attention, the federal share of its budget has dropped, and state contributions have waxed and waned, a step or two forward, two steps or three back. With each shift in legislative leadership, we have to persuade a new crop, and they retire or fall to scandal, we start all over again. Each time, more essential staff are eroded away, retiring seeking stabler lives elsewhere and taking hundreds of years of collective expertise with them.
I almost built my career around it, but my rapid succession of tumors caused me to abandon my plans to become an infectious disease specialist. But, still, I have stuck to the original foundation.
This was the worst year. This year, I put in more effort than I have in a long time. The Massachusetts CDC is beginning to show the cracks that my colleagues and I have long warned would appear. We hear a new desperation of our hard-working friends on the inside as they struggle to maintain our defenses. This new threats have emerged, such as West Nile Virus, new Borrelia species (a group of tickborne illnesses that includes Lyme); Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and Ebola; old diseases have reappeared (measles, mumps, whooping cough--'thanks,' anti-vaxers!) or morphed into worse monsters (multi-drug resistant tuberculosis); terrorists have attacked (marathon bombers). I really thought that we had an iron-clad case. The rank and file of the legislature seem to have been persuaded, but those at the top are focused only on indiscriminate fiscal austerity even as a terrifying TB crisis took place in Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo's own district, Winthrop (http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2016/04/tb-cuts-zika-ebola).
Yesterday, the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee budget recommendation for the Institute for FY17 came out at $12.2 million (3% of a total Massachusetts state budget of $40 billion). This has dropped from the inadequate $14.1 million in FY15. The Institute, instead being able to respond to infrequent by inevitable public health disasters by getting staff to work overtime and keep the Institute running well 24/7 for weeks, can, at best, limp along 24/5. There can be no cavalry to ride quickly to the rescue, since the CDC in our region is the Institute.
I will recover. I always do. My main partner in the endeavor, Cynthia Tschampl, and her boundless energy, will rally me again. Ways and Means may be stingy, but there is an amendment to push (thank you Rep. Cambell! https://malegislature.gov/People/Profile/LDC1) in the House, and the Senate to persuade.
If you live in Massachusetts, go to http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx and find your Massachusetts representative. Then, click on the link to get their contact info. Call and leave a message or e-mail them. Tell them you do not feel safe with our public health system disarmed and ask them to sign on to Cambell's amendment for a $13.1 million dollar budget for the State Public Health Laboratory Institute by contacting Sascha Alach in Rep. Campbell’s office before 2:00pm this Friday the 15th, or at least by Friday the 22nd by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling x8463. And you can contact Ways and Means Chairman Dempsey (Brian.Dempsey@mahouse.gov / 617-722-2990) and Speaker DeLeo (Robert.DeLeo@mahouse.gov / 617-722-2500/Robert.DeLeo@mahouse.gov) and tell them this cannot continue.
And be well, everybody,