Many individuals approach public health catastrophes with an ‘if it happens, it won’t happen to me’ mentality. But what if it does happen to you? You’ll probably find yourself wishing that there was a rapid response team out there waiting to provide you the cure. Fortunately, there is a national stockpile of medicine designed especially for these circumstances.
The man in charge is Greg Burel, Director of the Division of Strategic National Stockpile at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He sat down with Emily Jarvis on this week’s DorobekINSIDER to discuss his role in the public sector.
Burel is currently a finalist in the Management Excellence category for the Partnership for Public Service’s Service to America Medals, or the SAMMIES—a prestigious award that recognizes achievement in the federal government. As the Director of the National Stockpile of Emergency Medicines and Medical Supplies, Burel is in charge of managing the nation’s medical supplies repository and responding to a public health events in the United States.
The CDC uses the stockpile to respond to everything from small outbreaks of the flu to pandemics like Ebola. For smaller outbreaks, Burel explained, “an astute clinician in the community will see that something is happening and contact the CDC. From there, subject matter experts in the CDC identify what is going on and make recommendations to help community leaders make decisions in how to treat the patients.”
For some of these instances, the necessary medicines are only available from the Strategic National Stockpile. When this is the case, the state and local public health officials go to Burel and his team to obtain the medicines they need to treat their community. For example, there was a recent outbreak of botulism poisoning at a community potluck dinner in Ohio. Burel explained, “we were made aware of the situation pretty quickly thanks to local clinicians and were able to work with the clinicians and the State Public Health in Ohio to deploy botulinum antitoxin to all of the infected individuals.”
How does one become the gatekeeper to lifesaving medicine? Burel emphasized his path was not the most direct. Before he started helming the stockpile, he was the Director of Administration and Resource planning in FEMA’s most active national disaster region. This exposed him to managing emergency response logistics—skills that he uses on a daily basis at the CDC. Additionally, he spent time at GSA where he learned about the importance of supply chain and federal acquisition of materials.
Burel’s previous private sector experiences allowed him to understand the value of the federal government’s ability to maintain a day-to-day supply chain as well as a national stockpile. He explained, “the products that we hold don’t have a role in day to day medical interventions but if we are not buying and stocking these medicines for rare things that might happen, it will be a very bad day for the United states if a rare outbreak does happen and we’re not stocked. As a result, we invest in these products and are prepared to use them if needed.”
While there are some positions in the private sector that are analogous to Burel’s, the stockpile operation as a whole is exclusive to the federal government. He explained, “purchasing products that don’t really have a commercial value but are necessary if something bad happens is really only something the federal government does.” This makes Burel and his team and their role in the public sector invaluable if a public health problem does occur.
As a result, Burel takes his role in government very seriously. “My job is to support the smart people who run the stockpile operations and if I give them the support they need to clear potential roadblocks and get the best results,” Burel emphasized. He does this successfully by collaborating and networking with a lot of individuals. His focus on learning from those around him has allowed him to explore a lot of concepts that otherwise would not have been illuminated.
Despite his holistic and collaborative approach to management, Burel still faces challenges in his role. One of the biggest obstacles he faces is when the stockpile doesn’t have the supplies needed to solve every medical problem. This was the case with the Zika virus, as there is no treatment or vaccine to prevent it. “What we have done in this situation is try and support the CDC and work with partners to develop prevention kits to protect those at risk,” Burel explained. When the Strategic National Stockpile cannot take a primary reaction role, they assume a support role to help coordinate large-scale logistics and have a positive impact.
Another challenge is predicting and preparing for the next public health issue. However, Burel emphasized that this challenge is inherently a part of the job and he and his team have developed ways to overcome it and promote collaboration. He concluded, “We are always on the lookout for new opportunities to engage other people to work with us and establishing successful partnerships across the public sector.”
Don’t miss out on the chance to get to know the other finalists and learn their inspiring stories! We love all of the finalists but if you have a favorite be sure to vote for them in the People’s Choice Award.