Friday, July 29, 2005

Gerberding loses popularity contest at CDC

The votes are in . . . and the Loser is . . . CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. In an "informal survey" of CDC employees, two thirds opposed Dr. Julie's Disorganization Plan, the so-called Futures Initiative. The Gerberding Disorg Plan consolidated 12 major subdivisions into four "coordinating centers." The result was not only a great deal of shuffling of assignments and responsibilities but extreme agency demoralization. When I asked a senior manager how Director Gerberding sold her new scheme to agency professionals, this person gave a four word summary: "Just deal with it." The anonymous on-line survey comprised about 37% of CDC's 8500 employees and one might anticipate a significant bias, with those most unhappy more likely to respond. Even so, 65% of them (and thus 25% of all CDC employees) didn't believe there was a bright future in the Futures Initiative (via Medical News Today).

In her Draconian "reorganization" Gerberding consulted with few old hands at the once proud and competent health agency. Word was she brooked no opposition and surrounded herself with "yes men." That's the story we hear, anyway. I know one of the inner circle quite well and he is not a "yes man" but an extremely competent and dedicated public health professional who can be counted on for good advice. But the other part of the story is that Gerberding doesn't listen, so good advice isn't much use. And contrary opinions, forcefully expressed, stronlgy discouraged.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the paper that obtained the results of the survey, "respondents cited several main complaints: an 'inappropriate' business focus to the public health mission of CDC, low employee morale, increased bureaucracy, loss of trust, loss of important staff members and damage to the reputation of the agency." This is consistent with what we have been hearing on the outside and also explains the rush to the exits among the senior staff, who have practically trampled each other trying to get out the door once they have their 20 years in. The result is a catastrophic loss of institutional memory and experience that will inflict damage on the agency for years, if not decades, to come.

This resentment of the top professional staff with CDC "leadership" couldn't come at a worse time. Senior staff of the influenza branch are already gone with others rumored to have one foot out the door, this when an influenza pandemic, the biggest public health threat we have faced in decades, is threatened. Gerberding herself is said to be on the way out, awaiting only a suitably cushy place to come to rest. When that will happen is a matter of much speculation. Some rumors say ti will be within 3 months, and that there's even a short list, with a top candidate for her replacement coming from the state of . . . you guess.

Yes, that's right. The rumor mill has coughed up the name of Dr. Edouardo Sanchez, currently Commissioner in Texas. His bio is respectable but other than what's written there we know nothing about him. Anyone out there want to enlighten the rest of us?

Of course, this is all rumor. Maybe Gerberding is staying, to preside further over the disarticulation of the skeleton that was once CDC. Or maybe she will be replaced by someone else, say another Texan involved in public health. Tom Delay? He used to work as an exterminator. He can finish the job Gerberding started.