On Public Health Security - September 2016 - US Public Health Service's Commissioned Corps Defends Public Health at Home and Abroad



On Public Health Security
September 2016
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Stephen C. Redd

Dear Partners,

I’d like to take the opportunity this month to highlight a group of public health professionals that contribute greatly to our work at the CDC, especially in emergency response—the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS).

Overseen by the Surgeon General, the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS is a team of more than 6,700 highly-qualified professionals who fill many different roles, both clinical and non-clinical, within U.S. federal agencies. CDC currently has 970 Commissioned Corps staff, with 76 assigned to the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR). The mission of the Commissioned Corps—the only uniformed service dedicated exclusively to public health—is to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of the nation. The Commissioned Corps is a mobile public health workforce organized similarly to the military. Likewise, officers are obligated to deploy when they receive orders.

This discussion of the Commissioned Corps is a personal one for me, as I have served for 31 years as a Commissioned Corps Officer. As an officer, I investigated outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease, helped develop strategies to control malaria, and worked toward the elimination of measles in the US. My most memorable experience was serving as the incident commander for the H1N1 response in 2009. In this role, I was responsible for ensuring that those involved in the response understood their responsibilities and that response priorities were addressed. Our priorities included detecting outbreaks of H1N1 and preparing for the following season’s influenza vaccination program.

Historically and to this day, Commissioned Corps Officers have held a variety of positions throughout CDC, and have made up a critical component of virtually all of CDC’s emergency responses. For example, during the Ebola response, 853 Commissioned Corps Officers from CDC served in multiple roles both domestically and internationally, 80 of whom were from OPHPR. Here are some of the remarkable ways officers supported two recent responses.

Zika Response

Commissioned Corps officers at CDC—together with other skilled CDC staff—are serving or have served in 29 states and territories and 13 countries in response to the current Zika outbreak. A total of 100 officers from CDC, 14 from OPHPR, are currently serving in roles ranging from surveillance to vector control to health communication.

Avi Stein, a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR), recently served in the Zika Outbreak in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) as the CDC Team Lead and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Manager. The USVI team, which also included Medical Officer LCDR Aaron Harris and many civilian CDC staff, supported the territory in critical Zika-related activities, including educating clinicians and the public about Zika through clinician seminars, public forums, and media outreach. LCDR Stein describes one of his most significant accomplishments as supporting the development of a public health-focused EOC, including staff training and creating incident action plans specific to public health threats. LCDR Stein says he has “been humbled by the uniform” and has “learned how to utilize the respect that’s given to [him] in a manner that best supports the mission’s goals.”

Louisiana Flood Response

While Commissioned Corps Officers at CDC can be deployed under CDC authority, as with Zika, they can also be deployed with orders from Commissioned Corps headquarters, as was the case with the Louisiana flood response. Twenty-five Commissioned Corps officers from CDC were deployed to Baton Rouge to staff a medical special needs shelter at Louisiana State University (LSU) that served nearly 300 patients and caregivers displaced by the flood.

As the Deputy Planning Section Chief during her two week deployment, LCDR Erin Grasso helped create situation reports and incident action plans. These documents were critical to ensuring a seamless transition between groups of responders as they rotated off twelve hour shifts. In talking about her deployment, LCDR Grasso said “It was a privilege to work on this response, especially working side-by-side with Commissioned Corps Officers from numerous other Federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Indian Health Service. It was also great to work closely with two Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs), the Louisiana State Police, the LSU Police Department, and the Army and Air National Guard, who provided facility security and patient transport at the shelter.”

LCDRs Stein and Grasso support these response missions while at the same time holding full-time positions within OPHPR. LCDR Stein works in the Division of the Strategic National Stockpile and LCDR Grasso works in the Division of State and Local Readiness. LCDR Grasso describes joining the Corps as “the best professional decision [she] ever made.”

The Commissioned Corps represents a commitment to service, and its officers will continue to support CDC and its partners in the future by effectively executing their missions and using their skills and training to tackle a wide variety of public health threats.

I encourage you to take some time to learn more about the work and stories of this cadre of honorable individuals who have dedicated their lives to supporting the health of our nation for over 200 years.

Thank you,

Stephen C. Redd, MD


Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Noteworthy Events

September is National Preparedness Month. CDC's theme this year is The Power of Preparedness. Visit CDC's National Preparedness Month webpage for more information and resources.

September 30th is National PrepareAthon Day! Join the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the nation in a grassroots campaign for action to increase community preparedness. Find out how you can take action today!

Join the American Public Health Association (APHA) and more than 12,000 public health professionals for their Annual Meeting October 29th-November 2nd in Denver, Colorado. This year’s theme is “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Ensuring the Right to Health.”

Submit an abstract by September 30th for the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) 2017 Preparedness Summit April 25th-28th in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme is “Forces of Change: Capabilities, Innovation, and Partnerships.”

Attend the Emergency Preparedness & Hazmat Response Conference November 1st-4th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Register here.

The Association of Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Professionals (AHEPP) Annual Conference is coming up on October 4th-6th in Las Vegas, Nevada. You can register here.



Spread the word about preparedness using a new National Preparedness Month 2016 tool kit from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

CDC recently released a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) for National Preparedness Month.

CDC just released an MMWR on the first outbreak of mosquito-borne Zika virus infection in the continental United States that occurred in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida. For the latest information about Zika, visit the CDC Zika Home Page.

Stay current on outbreaks and other hot topics in public health through the Public Health Matters Blog. Sign up today and never miss an update.