CDC, under fire for covid response, announces plans to revamp agency

In an email sent to the entire agency shortly after 1:00 p.m., Walensky said she hired a senior federal health official outside the Atlanta-based agency to conduct a month-long review to “launch an assessment of DCC’s structure, systems and processes.

“Over the past year, I’ve heard from many of you that you would love to see CDC build on its rich history and modernize for the world around us,” she wrote in the post. ‘E-mail. “I am grateful for your efforts to build on the hard work of transforming CDC for the better. I look forward to our collective efforts to position the CDC and the public health community for the greatest success in the future.

A copy of the email was shared with The Washington Post.

Since the pandemic began more than two years ago, the once-legendary agency has come under fire for its response to the pandemic, from initial delays in developing a coronavirus test, to the severe eligibility limits to take the test, to missteps often attributed to interference by the Trump administration. But even under the Biden administration, the agency’s guidelines on masking, isolation and quarantine, and booster doses have repeatedly been criticized for being confusing. A constant criticism has been the agency’s inability to be nimble, especially with real-time data analysis and release.

Walensky appeared to acknowledge these criticisms in brief public remarks 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 the statement. . “…As we challenged our state and local partners, we know the time is right for the CDC to incorporate lessons learned into a strategy for the future.”

After briefing the agency’s leadership team, Walensky sent the email to staff, stating that the month-long effort, which was scheduled to begin April 11, would be led by Jim Macrae, Associate Care Administrator. primary health care at the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA. HRSA and CDC are part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

She also called on three senior officials to gather feedback and solicit suggestions for “strategic change”. They are Deb Houry, acting senior assistant director; Robin Bailey, Chief Operating Officer; and Sherri Berger, chief of staff and longtime agency veteran who oversaw the agency’s budget for many years and is close to Walensky.

Walensky said the overhaul would focus on the agency’s “core capabilities,” including bolstering the country’s public health workforce, modernizing data, lab capacity, health equity, response rapid response to epidemics and preparedness in the United States and around the world.

“At the end of this collective effort, we will develop new systems and processes to deliver our science and our program to the American people, as well as a plan for how the CDC should be structured to facilitate the public health work we do. let’s do,” she wrote.

The review will take place as the CDC streamlines its coronavirus management structure, which draws teams from across the agency to manage the day-to-day response to covid, and instead will return more activities to existing offices, a- she declared.

Some experts applauded the outside scrutiny, but faulted the Biden administration for not giving Walensky the support she needed to modernize the CDC before now.

“I think there needs to be a detailed account of why things failed so epically…and it should have happened during the transition,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine. from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Walensky “did as good a job as anyone could have done,” Hotez added, noting that she struggled with inadequate infrastructure and no information about what was broken.

But an outside adviser to the administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be candid, said the CDC needed to do more than hire an outside adviser, noting the agency had made a misstep. after another over the past two years. The CDC was unfortunately unprepared for the pandemic, the adviser said, and was too slow to respond at nearly every turn, warranting a more drastic overhaul.

Walensky’s email to staff came at a time when many of the agency’s more than 13,000 scientists, epidemiologists and public health experts were on vacation. But a CDC official welcomed the overhaul of the CDC’s structure and processes. “This is NOT a bad thing as covid has revealed real weaknesses,” the individual wrote in an email on condition of anonymity to candidly share his thoughts. “I think substantial changes will require legislation, and I don’t know if this Congress or the next one will be able to do that.”

A sweeping pandemic plan that would make the CDC director a Senate-confirmed post and make other changes to the agency has passed a key Senate health committee with strong bipartisan support, but awaits a vote in ground.

CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund wrote that the reorganization would build on changes already underway at the agency to speed up data reporting, among other things. Walensky sought to expedite the release of data and guidance, and share more frequent updates with the public, officials said.

“Work is needed to institutionalize and formalize these approaches and to find new ways to adapt the agency structure to the changing environment,” Nordlund said.

Yasmeen Abutaleb contributed to this report.

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