Health Lab Opens in Waycross; the Modern Facility Also Will Provide Bioterrorism Testing

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Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

WAYCROSS - The health and safety of South Georgia residents got more secure Wednesday with the snip of a bright red ribbon.

The new Waycross Regional Public Health Laboratory opened with a flourish to reveal what officials described as state-of-the-art equipment and a highly trained staff ready to fight the spread of disease, and to help protect residents from bioterrorism.

The $15 million one-story laboratory - which includes training space - is a vital hub linking public health services to residents statewide, said Stuart Brown, a physician and director of the Georgia Division of Public Health.

"This facility is absolutely crucial," Brown said.

It will provide screening, diagnostic and reference laboratory services to county health departments, public health clinics, doctors, hospitals and state agencies. The lab also will serve as a back-up facility to the central public health laboratory in Decatur, he said.

Replacing the old Waycross lab, the new facility has more room. It will continue to provide routine microbiology and laboratory analysis of suspected sexually transmitted diseases and rabies specimens.

"We have the same diseases they had 100 years ago. Only now, the bugs have gotten smarter and more drug resistant and we have to be able to deal with them," said Elizabeth Franko, a physician and laboratory director for the state Division of Public Health.

The new lab also will provide additional state bioterrorism testing. Plans are being developed to conduct chemical testing at the lab.

Such precautions were unheard of and unnecessary more than 30 years ago when physician Ted Holloway began his tenure as director of the Southeast Health Unit based in Waycross, which provides public health services in 16 Southeast Georgia counties.

Holloway, now retired, was instrumental is getting the new laboratory built. …