(Thank you to Senator Donnelly for his ongoing support of the Massachusetts state public health lab and for writing this thoughtful blog post.)
By Massachusetts State Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly, 4th Middlesex District
I recently toured the Hinton State Laboratory Institute (HSLI), my state’s public health laboratory, accompanied by the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer. We met with Dr. Linda Han, the HSLI’s Director of Laboratory Services, and other interested stakeholders to learn about the multitude of services the HSLI provides to the residents of the Commonwealth, all on a shoestring budget.
Each year in reviewing the State’s budget and determining my budget priorities, I look for the line items that fund programs important to my district. I look for the obvious – local aid, education funding, elderly services, programs we all know about – and the not so obvious. The Hinton State Laboratory Institute (HSLI) is the perfect example of one of those not so obvious programs that is a crucial partner in keeping the Commonwealth safe.
The HSLI protects us from foodborne illnesses, communicable diseases and bioterrorism threats. These are the folks that constantly monitor the mosquito population for West Nile Virus, ensuring that the only inconvenience we have from a mosquito bite is some mild itching as opposed to a potentially deadly virus. They track movements of viruses and monitor the Commonwealth for outbreaks here at home. They are on the front line of such diseases as tuberculosis and tracking, training and supporting medical personnel in the prevention and treatment of this serious illness.
One of the lab’s top priorities is keeping the public safe from contaminated food supplies. Working with federal authorities, the HSLI tracks outbreaks of Salmonella and Listeria and removes contaminated foods from the market, ultimately keeping them off our families’ plates.
The Hinton State Laboratory Institute is one of only ten Level 1 Chemical Threat labs in the nation. Bioterrorism is a continuing threat in the U.S., and it is crucial that there are laboratories able to identify toxic elements threatening public safety.
The public health benefits that the HSLI provides are extensive; however, the services they are able to provide are in serious jeopardy. The lab is critically underfunded. They have lost 26% of their staffing over the last five years, and the fiscal year 2013 budget will not provide the lab with adequate funding. Many programs have been curtailed or cut altogether.
The doctors and researchers that Senator Brewer and I met with are tireless in their efforts to protect us from threats despite the shortage of staff and building resources. The low level of funding is causing a major public safety concern.
This year, I will again make Hinton State Lab funding one of my top priorities. Their service to our Commonwealth is invaluable and I will continue to advocate for increased funding, as well as bring awareness to how crucial the lab facility and staff are to protecting the people of Massachusetts. I am fully committed to continuing my advocacy for the lab and fighting for the funding it deserves: for the safety of my district and all the residents of the state.