New federal Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant will upgrade RI’s public health infrastructure & improve coordination and integration of laboratory with epidemiology and health information systems

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline announced a new $81.7 million federal grant to enable the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) to build a new public health laboratory facility.

From its current facility on Orms Street in Providence, the RIDOH State Health Laboratories (RISHL) play a critical role in the State’s efforts to investigate and mitigate life-threatening diseases, including COVID-19, as well as other public health threats like Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), Ebola, H1N1, and Zika.  RISHL also provides important services for State and municipal agencies to ensure the safety of drinking water and food products; monitor pollution of air and water; and aid public safety and criminal investigations through police officer training, DNA testing, and illegal drug identification.

The Orms Street facility was commissioned in 1978 and has become outdated, with insufficient laboratory space, inadequate building systems, and equipment in need of repair.   According to RIDOH, over $500,000 annually is spent in capital expenditures to keep the facility working efficiently. 

Last year, when commercial testing services weren’t yet widely available, insufficient laboratory space limited the number of COVID-19 samples that could be tested at the State Health Laboratories.  In fact, the State’s pandemic response required limited renovation/construction of the facility in order to accommodate processing of thousands of samples for testing. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Congressmen Langevin and Cicilline voted to include nearly $50 billion for COVID-19-mitigation and public health infrastructure, such as testing, contact tracing, enhanced genomic sequencing and Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grants.  This federal funding may be used to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.”

“COVID-19 revealed a serious gap in our health care infrastructure.  This new federal funding will help Rhode Island bridge that gap and create a new state-of-the-art lab facility for the 21st century.  This is a wise investment in upgrading our public health infrastructure and ensuring that advanced diagnostics tests and other clinical capabilities are readily available here in Rhode Island,” said Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Congressmen Langevin and Cicilline in a joint statement.

The state will receive $81,716,590 to construct a new laboratory building that is expected to be LEED Silver certifiable and contain state-of-the-art equipment.  The new facility will enable RISHL to continue to provide high-quality scientific test results more efficiently through improved workflows, while avoiding the expensive recurring maintenance and allow for spatial flexibility in the event of another pandemic or as new public health initiatives unfold.  

Plans for the facility also call for a newly created section of the RISHL Center for Biological Sciences that will function as a dedicated Genomics Sequencing Core Laboratory. 

Like the State Health Lab on Orms Street that it will replace, the new lab would be categorized as a Level 3 biosafety facility that is equipped to handle dangerous materials, microbes, and pathogens.  

Federal support for the project will be allocated to the state through the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant funds administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).