Public health always gets hit first: Maine CDC missing top hepatitis expert for recent case

When the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention decided last week how to respond to a potential hepatitis A exposure at a Cumberland County restaurant, it did so without its top hepatitis coordinator and two leading epidemiologists, positions that have been vacant for months.

public.healthThe state’s handling of that case has drawn criticism from public health leaders who say the state should have named the restaurant to alert diners who may have been exposed to the virus during the weeks when the worker served food there.

The Maine CDC is operating without a full staff trained to deal with such infectious diseases. And while the department grapples with concerns over Ebola and the approaching flu season, 14 of its roughly 50 public health nurse positions remain vacant – more than 25 percent of the workforce. Public health nurses are front-line workers who run vaccination clinics and respond to outbreaks.

“Our public health infrastructure is woefully inadequate,” said MaryAnne Turowski, legislative and politics director for the Maine State Employees Association, the union that represents public health nurses. The state is “not prepared for an infectious disease outbreak,” she said.