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APHL has corporate members?!

By Linette Granen, MT(ASCP)DLM, Corporate Relations Manager, Association of Public Health Laboratories

“Corporate members?  Really?”  This is the response I usually get when I’m talking to a group of non-profit marketers and fundraisers about APHL’s innovative corporate membership program.  And I get a confused look on peoples’ faces when I say that our organization represents government-funded laboratories.  Many times, the next question is, “And they let you do that?”  They usually get more interested as I explain to them that it hasn’t been easy, but we have gotten buy-in from our traditional members and that our corporate members are a real membership category with membership benefits, that participate as members in our organization.  I’m finding that many non-profits, including ones like ours that have a science-based membership, may have “corporate members”although those members are part of the organization in name only.  Our “sustaining members” as they are called, do play an active role in the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL).

Recently, APHL’s mission was expanded to include promotion of technologies which “assure continuous improvement in the quality of laboratory practice and health outcomes.”  At this year’s Annual Meeting, four of our highest level corporate members are facilitating their own Industry Workshops on the evening of Monday, June 4, 2011, at the Omaha Hilton.  Although not an official part of the APHL meeting, nonetheless the presentations will cover advances in technology that in the future will affect laboratory practice in our members’ laboratories and the entire laboratory industry.  Abbott will be hosting a discussion of the Plex-ID System’s foodborne bacterial pathogen assay with Becky Bell from FDA as the speaker.  Life Technologies will be presenting several new tools for reliable molecular pathogen diagnosis, including research done at CDC by Dr. Maureen Diaz, an APHL/CDC EID Fellow; also in that presentation will be an overview of their EZ Validation software aimed at streamlining the process of validation and verification of molecular assays.  Dr. Jennifer Puck, from UCSF Medical Center, will present at the PerkinElmer workshop, on how testing for severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID) fits into the current newborn screening laboratory model with findings from the California pilot project.   ThermoFisher Scientific will offer an overview of challenges in trace elemental analysis and provide an opportunity to discuss the most recent “hot topics” in chemical contamination in foods and the environment, now occurring on the global stage.

Over the past six years that we have had this program, our members and staff have finally begun calling sustaining members “partners,” for that is what they truly are.  In today’s economy, representing and supporting governmental laboratories is not an easy job for APHL.  And our sustaining members understand that.   Although our main source of funding is federal dollars, our association’s support is now being cut by federal agencies.  Our sustaining members also understand that.  They share our pain and are willing to do something about it.  As a public health organization, we are also very much concerned with any health threat to the welfare of people anywhere on this planet.  Again, our sustaining members share our concern, and a few are large enough and have the resources to do something about that as well.

Last year, APHL’s sustaining membership program was highlighted in an article (written by Mikel Smith Koon, president of Mosaik Strategies, who assisted us in originally establishing the sustaining membership program) in Associations Now, which chronicled our progression from the seed of an idea in 2005 until now, where our corporate members are making a difference in our organization and our members’ laboratories and ultimately in public health.   In the article, three case studies are unfolded that include how Life Technologies (aka Applied Biosystems) assisted in the swine flu crisis of 2009, how Gen-Probe teamed up with our laboratory members to provide critical public health screening that otherwise would not have been accomplished, and how Abbott and HDR, through their volunteer and foundation arms, collaborated to build laboratories in Tanzania.   If I must say so myself, we have developed a unique method of interaction with these companies by involving them in potential public health laboratory crises.  The latest example of which is the radiation threat to this country from the Japan disaster, when we collaborated with ThermoFisher to deliver much-needed, timely information in a webinar about radiation testing, that was attended by concerned scientists and laboratorians nationwide.

So, as I’m speaking to my colleagues in other non-profits, the question then is, “How do you know which companies would be interested?” I always answer that with the question, “Which ones wouldn’t be?”  In this age of corporate social responsibility initiatives and the “health outcomes ecosystem” (which is termed such by the Ernst & Young annual “Pulse of the Industry Report” on the medical technology business sector), public-private partnership is thriving, involving support in the form of money, yes, but also involving partnership that advances innovation in ideas and technology, and ultimately leads to a better place to live for all of us.  Our corporate members and the rest of our membership realize that this priceless!!

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