Donald E. Williamson, M.D., State Health Laboratory dedicated virtually

A virtual dedication ceremony was held today for the Donald E. Williamson, M.D., State Health Laboratory located on Legends Court in Prattville, Ala. Gov. Kay Ivey, former State Health Officer Dr. Donald Williamson, and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris gave remarks during the event.

A video of their comments pictures of the facility available for use. A video of a speed-walk through the Prattville Laboratory can be viewed at Photo credit is required when images are published: © 2020 Chris Luker

The Bureau of Clinical Laboratories facility is named in honor of Williamson who served the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) for 29 years, including his tenure as state health officer from 1992 to 2015. The facility receives 500,000 to 1 million specimens per year and performs more than 1.5 million laboratory tests in support of county health departments around the state, as well as private citizens and private health care providers, and houses 10 divisions with about 115 employees. In 2021, the laboratory tested 27,572 COVID-19 specimens received from health care providers meeting the requirements for surveillance testing.

For more than a century, Alabama’s public health laboratories have provided high quality services that have played a crucial role supporting the health of Alabamians. Planning efforts for the $30 million project began in 2013 when a feasibility study was conducted. Prime considerations included the need for improved biosafety and biosecurity to ensure continued compliance with national regulatory requirements. The laboratory replaced a leased facility on the Auburn University Montgomery campus built in the late 1970s.
In marking this milestone, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, “We are very pleased to dedicate this state-of-the-art laboratory. The increased capacity of this facility enhances our ability to respond and features the latest technical and mechanical systems which will increase safety and security for our employees.”

Governor Ivey added, “As governor, I’ve made protecting the health and safety of the people that call Alabama home a top priority. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of our state’s public health laboratories, and I’m confident this state-of-the-art facility will play a vital role in safeguarding public health for many years to come.”  

Public health laboratories such as this new, modern facility, form the backbone of a national laboratory network that performs complex testing and surveillance. These unique services are vital to all Alabamians. They include responding to novel strains of diseases such as COVID-19 in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies. The laboratory is charged with screening every baby born in the state for specific genetic disorders, determining the causative agents of foodborne disease outbreaks, testing well water for bacteria and animals for rabies, and assisting the Federal Bureau of Investigation with cases involving biological or chemical threats.

Clinical and environmental specimen testing is done in support of multiple ADPH programs for Alabama residents. These include child health, environmental services, family planning, HIV prevention and care, infectious diseases and outbreaks, maternity, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis control. Some areas of testing performed include dairy, food, fungal identifications, lead screening, parasitology, gonorrhea, water quality and others.

The new laboratory facility offers an open laboratory concept that allows for flexibility, although there are closed spaces for special testing such as bioterrorism, tuberculosis, newborn screening, and molecular biology laboratories. Laboratory space consists of 21,000 square feet of Biosafety Level-2 and 4,500 square feet of Biosafety Level-3 laboratories.

The laboratory relocation took  place at the end of August 2020, under the leadership of Drs. Sharon Massingale and Aretha Williams, director and assistant director of the Bureau of Clinical Laboratories. The 12-acre site at Legends Park at HomePlace overlooks the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course which makes for a relaxing atmosphere for the laboratorians. The facility opened on August 28, 2020.

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