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University of Iowa News Release


April 29, 2008

Hygienic Lab, Missouri look to expand newborn screening plan

Expanding the emergency backup plan for newborn screening (NBS) developed by the University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) and the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory (MSPHL) was the focus of the second annual Heartland NBS Laboratory Workshop, held April 17-18 in Jefferson City, Mo.

"Recent events as devastating as Hurricane Katrina and as sudden as an Iowa ice storm remind us of the need to plan for ways that we can continue to serve the public health in spite of emergencies," said Christopher Atchison, UHL director and associate dean in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.

The UHL, which is based at the UI, and the MSPHL earlier this year created a mutual-aid plan to ensure continuous, uninterrupted screenings of babies born in both states. Under terms of the agreement, the UHL and Missouri SPHL will serve as each other's backup if at any time the ability to provide this potentially life-saving screening is interrupted. Service interruptions would include any event or circumstance that would limit either lab's ability to conduct newborn screening, such as a natural disaster.

The UHL provided newborn screening backup for Louisiana for two years following Hurricane Katrina.

During the workshop, members of the Heartland Region discussed plans to expand the Iowa-Missouri plan and fully implement backup capacity for newborn screening across the eight Midwestern states in the region (Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska).

"Newborn screening is a time-critical service," Atchison said. "It is imperative that we continue without interruption to quickly identify babies who are born with any of the 40 conditions for which we test so that families can provide treatment that may prevent serious health conditions. Our work with the state of Missouri and the Heartland Region greatly advances that mission."

The implementation structure for the Iowa and Missouri pact was established through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a federally legislated agreement that authorizes one state to assist another. All 50 U.S. states have ratified legislation to become individual members of EMAC.

"EMAC is the structure or frame within which we can assist one another," said Stan Berberich, Ph.D., UHL program manager for newborn screening. "It addresses liability, licensure, reimbursement and other legal issues. However, the planning and details of how the requested services will be provided must be worked out by the parties involved. In this case, Missouri and Iowa have not only worked together to develop a plan but have carried out functional drills this winter and spring to demonstrate that the systems work.

"The successful completion of these drills demonstrates two things: We can successfully support each other's NBS program by providing the necessary testing and reporting capabilities; and secondly, these services can be quickly deployed and fully carried out under EMAC," Berberich added.

The University Hygienic Laboratory is part of the UI and is the state of Iowa's environmental and public health laboratory. The UHL is the designated laboratory for the Iowa Neonatal Metabolic Screening Program, with facilities located on the Oakdale Campus in Iowa City and at the Iowa Lab Facilities in Ankeny, a Des Moines suburb. Among its many services, the laboratory functions as a consultative and analytical support facility for state agencies, health professionals and citizens. The UHL performs analyses on samples from virtually all matrices, including human clinical specimens, air, drinking water, wastewater, soil, sediment, industrial effluents, oil and fish. Additional information about UHL, its programs and services is available online at

STORY SOURCE: University Hygienic Laboratory, 102 Oakdale Campus, H101 OH, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-5002

MEDIA CONTACT: Pat Blake, 319-335-4177,