CDC, under fire for reaction to COVID, announces plans to rebuild agency

In an email to the entire agency sent shortly after 1 p.m., Valensky said she had hired a senior federal health official outside the agency in Atlanta to conduct a monthly review to “begin the assessment CDC structures, systems and processes ”.

“Over the past year, I have heard from many of you that you would like the CDC to build on its rich history and modernize for the world around it,” she wrote in an email. “I am grateful for your efforts to lean towards the hard work of transforming the CDC for the better. I look forward to our collective efforts to position the CDC and public health to achieve the greatest success in the future. ”

A copy of the email was given to The Washington Post.

Ever since the pandemic began more than two years ago, a once-known agency has been under fire for reacting to a pandemic due to initial delays in developing a coronavirus test. to the serious limits of the right to take the test to wrong steps, often attributed to the intervention of the Trump administration. But even under the Biden administration, the agency’s instructions on camouflage, isolation and quarantine, as well as additional doses, have repeatedly accused it of confusion. Consistent criticism has been the agency’s inability to be flexible, especially with real-time data analysis and release.

Valensky seemed to acknowledge this criticism in brief public statements about the reasons for the reorganization.

“Never in its 75-year history has the CDC had to make decisions so quickly, based on often limited real-time and evolving science,” she said in a statement. “… As we have challenged our state and local partners, we know that now is the time for the CDC to integrate the lessons learned into its strategy for the future.”

After a briefing for the agency, Valensky sent an e-mail to staff saying the one-month work, which begins April 11, will be led by Jim McRae, deputy administrator for primary care in the Office of Health Resources and Services or HRSA. HRSA and CDC are part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

She also appealed to three high-ranking officials to gather feedback and offer proposals for “strategic change”. This is Deb Hury, Acting Deputy Director General; Robin Bailey, Chief Operating Officer; and Gray Berger, chief of staff and longtime veteran of the agency, who for many years controlled the agency’s budget and is close to Valensky.

Valensky said the reconstruction would focus on the agency’s “core capabilities,” including strengthening state health, modernizing data, laboratory capacity, health equity, responding quickly to disease outbreaks and preparedness in the U.S. and around the world.

“Upon completion of this collective effort, we will develop new systems and processes to deliver our science and program to the American people, as well as a plan for how the CDC should be structured to facilitate health care work,” she wrote.

The review will continue until the CDC optimizes its coronavirus management structure, which involves teams from across the agency to manage day-to-day responses to COVID, and instead return more activities to existing offices, she said.

Some experts welcomed the external review, but blamed the Biden administration for failing to provide Valencia with the support it needed to modernize the CDC earlier.

“I think we need to consider in detail why everything went so badly… and it had to happen during the transition,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Valenski “did as well as anyone could,” Hotez added, noting that it was hampered by insufficient infrastructure and there was no information that it had been breached.

But one external adviser to the administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be honest, said the CDC needed to do much more than hire an outside adviser, noting that over the past two years the agency has taken one wrong step after another. The CDC was very unprepared for the pandemic, the adviser said, and was too slow to respond to almost every move, justifying more drastic repairs.

A letter from Valencian staff was sent at a time when many of the agency’s more than 13,000 scientists, epidemiologists and health experts were on leave. But one CDC official welcomed the rethinking of the CDC’s structure and processes. “This is NOT a bad thing, as Covid has revealed some real weaknesses,” the man wrote in an e-mail on condition of anonymity to honestly share his thoughts. “I think significant changes will require legislation, and I don’t know if this Congress or the next will be able to do that.”

A broad plan to combat the pandemic, which will make the CDC director a Senate-confirmed position and make other changes to the agency, has been adopted by a key Senate Health Committee with strong bipartisan support but awaits a vote.

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund wrote that the reorganization would build on changes already under way at the agency to speed up reporting, among other things. Valensky sought to speed up the publication of data and recommendations, as well as share more frequent updates with the public, officials said.

“We need to work to institutionalize and formalize these approaches and find new ways to adapt the agency’s structure to a changing environment,” Nordlund said.

Jasmine Abutaleb contributed to this report.

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