The head of the nation’s top public health agency is shaking up the organization with the goal of making it more nimble

NEW YORK — The head of the country’s top health agency on Wednesday announced a restructuring of the organization, saying it was unresponsive to COVID-19 and needed to become more agile.

The planned changes at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — CDC leaders are calling it a “reset” — come amid criticism of the agency’s response to COVID-19, monkeypox and other public health threats. Changes include internal staff moves and steps to accelerate data sharing.

The director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky briefed agency staff on the changes on Wednesday. It’s a CDC initiative and wasn’t directed by the White House or other administration officials, she said.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to lead this agency to a better place after a really challenging three years,” Walensky told The Associated Press.

The $12 billion Atlanta-based agency with more than 11,000 employees is tasked with protecting Americans from disease outbreaks and other public health threats. It’s common for every CDC director to make some reshuffles, but Walensky’s action comes amid a broader call for change.

The agency has long been criticized for being unwieldy, focusing on collecting and analyzing data but failing to act quickly on emerging health threats. Public dissatisfaction with the agency increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts said the CDC has been slow to realize how many viruses are entering the US from Europe, recommending people wear masks, saying the virus can be airborne and stepping up systematic testing for new variants.

“We saw during COVID that the CDC’s structures were frankly not designed to take in, digest, and disseminate information to the public at the speed required,” said Jason Schwartz, a public health policy researcher at the Yale School of Public Health.

Walensky, who became director in January 2021, has long said the agency needs to act faster and communicate better, but pitfalls have persisted throughout her tenure. In April, she called for an in-depth review of the agency that led to the announced changes.

“It hasn’t escaped my notice that we’ve fallen short in many ways,” Walensky said in response to the coronavirus. “We’ve had some pretty public failures, and so much of that effort was holding up the mirror … to understand where and how we could do better.”

Your reorganization proposal must be approved by the Minister for Health and Human Services. CDC officials say they hope to have a full package of changes finalized, approved, and on track by early next year.

Some changes are still being formulated, but the steps announced on Wednesday include:

-Increased use of pre-printed scientific reports to obtain actionable data rather than waiting for research to be peer-reviewed and published by the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

– Reorganization of the agency’s communications office and further revision of the CDC websites to make the agency’s guidelines clearer and easier to find for the public.

-Changing the length of time agencies heads are devoted to outbreak response to at least six months – an attempt to address a revenue issue that was causing intermittent knowledge gaps and hampering the agency’s communications.

-Creation of a new Executive Council to help Walensky set strategy and priorities.

– Appointed Mary Wakefield as Senior Counselor to implement the changes. Wakefield led the Health Resources and Services Administration during the Obama administration and also served as Administrator #2 at HHS. Wakefield, 68, started Monday.

-Changed the agency’s organizational chart to reverse some changes made during the Trump administration.

-Establish an intergovernmental affairs office to promote partnerships with other agencies and an overarching office for health equity.

Walensky also said she intends to “get rid of some of the existing layers of reporting and I’d like to work on breaking down some of the silos.” She didn’t say exactly what that might mean, but stressed that the overall changes are less about a redesign of the organizational chart and more about rethinking the way the CDC does business and motivates employees.

“This will not simply be a move of boxes,” she said in the org chart.

Schwartz said shortcomings in the federal response extend beyond the CDC because the White House and other agencies have been heavily involved.

A reorganization of the CDC is a positive move, but “I hope it’s not the end of the story,” Schwartz said. He would like “broader accountability” about how the federal government is dealing with health crises.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The head of the nation’s top public health agency is shaking up the organization with the goal of making it more nimble

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