Maryland state labs no longer serving companion-animal veterinarians

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Annapolis, Md. -- Some veterinarians in Maryland need to find a new laboratory for necropsies and nonemergency infectious disease testing. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) is in the process of consolidating five labs across the state into two facilities and won?t be providing services to companion-animal veterinarians from now on.

Annapolis, Md.

-- Some veterinarians in Maryland need to find a new laboratory for necropsies and nonemergency infectious disease testing. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) is in the process of consolidating five labs across the state into two facilities and won’t be providing services to companion-animal veterinarians from now on.

“The majority of our customers will be livestock and poultry producers and the veterinarians who support them,” says Maryland's state veterinarian Dr. Guy Hohenhaus.

Facilities in College Park, Centreville, and Oakland will be completely shuttered by Oct. 1. The remaining labs in Frederick and Salisbury will be better-staffed and better-equipped. The Frederick location will handle livestock samples, specimens, and live or dead animals from the entire state. The Salisbury location will focus on commercial poultry samples from the entire state and noncommercial poultry samples from the eastern shore of Maryland.

Commute times for veterinarians and others dropping or picking up lab samples will increase from one hour to two hours to drive to a lab -- not an insurmountable commute, says Dr. Hohenhaus. And Maryland poultry and livestock veterinarians can still mail samples, she says.

The consolidation of labs is largely a result of budgetary considerations and a need to refocus the MDA on its core mission, according to Dr. Hohenhaus. But the ending of services is because of a recent finding by the Attorney General that the MDA didn’t have the legal right to charge private veterinarians for the services and thus couldn’t recoup its costs.

Funding has changed in the past 30 years, and fee-based services are a necessity. Dr. Hohenhaus says the consolidation of labs and the refocus on core services will help the MDA better fulfill its two primary missions -- livestock and poultry disease control and statewide emergency operations.

“In a tight fiscal situation, you need to let go of elective things and focus on core functions,” Dr. Hohenhaus says.

The labs also won’t be offering incineration services to veterinarians, animal control agencies, and law enforcement agencies much longer, either.

“We’re working really hard to help them find better options,” Dr. Hohenhaus says. “A lot of our effort in the past month has been to bridge the gap and buy [veterinarians and others] some time to find options.”

The lab closures and nixed offerings are affecting local rabies necropsies as well. Previously, health department officials sent the heads of potentially rabid large animals to the labs for removal and testing of brain tissue for rabies. Now MDA employees are providing large coolers and guidance to local health department officials on how to handle brain removals themselves.

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