April 14, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Despite 4 months of investigation, the source of bacteria that caused tularemia in three laboratory workers at Boston University remains a mystery, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) has reported.The investigation into the three cases has led to some new safety precautions for microbiology researchers in the Boston area, however, according to the report by M. Anita Barry, MD, MPH, director of communicable disease control for the BPHC.In the coming months, the BPHC will take a number of steps to bolster monitoring and reporting of infectious diseases acquired on the job, noted John Auerbach, BPHC executive director, in the forward to the report. Steps include mandatory training, close monitoring of Boston University’s improvement efforts, and training for research laboratory personnel. Most of the changes affect microbiology lab researchers throughout the Boston area, not just at Boston University.The following account of the event and conclusions of investigators are taken from the 15-page report:While studying a relatively benign strain of Francisella tularensis last year, three lab workers at the university fell ill. Two got sick in May, the third in September. Their symptoms were consistent with tularemia, which can cause fever, chills, malaise, low back pain, and chest pain. F tularensis is also considered one of a handful of pathogens with potential to be used as a biological weapon.The illnesses weren’t reported until Nov 10. Authorities immediately launched an investigation that included the BPHC, the state health department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the FBI.The investigation yielded some information on how the workers came to be infected through working with an attenuated laboratory strain not previously linked with human infection: they may have also been exposed to a wild strain of F tularensis found in some samples of their laboratory strain obtained from the University of Nebraska.But how the virulent bacteria found its way into the attenuated samples remains a mystery. The report said, “Testing at CDC continues in the effort to determine the time and place of contamination of the original vial. CDC is currently focusing its investigation on potential sources of the Type A tularemia outside Boston.”There is no evidence to suggest an intentional infection or contamination, Barry reported. However, she repeatedly noted concerns over a “routine failure to comply with safety protocols.”The report’s conclusions also include the following:The outbreak was limited to three people and never posed a risk to the publicFailure to spot and quickly report work-related illness in lab staff is a major concern for health officialsLaboratory infection control practices must be clearly documented and enforcedIn addition, the health commission is requiring that Boston University take several steps before it resumes tularemia research, including retraining workers on safety and modifying and strengthening standard operating procedures.
This threw a spanner in the works, as Grover said it was not the model the London boroughs had signed up for when the London CIV was originally set up. “One of the tricks I now see we missed at that point was to sit the boroughs down properly and debate: what does that mean and how does that change the vision?” said Grover. “There are a lot of people out there who just don’t want to be a mercenary” – Stefan Lundbergh, Cardano“As an organisation you have think about what you can pay, as that will also determine what kind of structure you’re going to set up,” Lundbergh said. “If you’re over-optimistic and hope you can attract super talent, they might leave you.”Pension organisations should also bear in mind that not everyone was primarily motivated by money, he added.“There are a lot of people out there who just don’t want to be a mercenary,” Lundbergh said. “People who have a passion and want to be a part of something – and if you can find them, that’s great for organisations like this because you can offer something more than a commercial organisation can.” L-R: Stefan Lundbergh, Cardano; Hugh Grover; Susan Martin, LPPHe was clear about the implications and the board also understood what had changed, he added, but there was not enough engagement with the boroughs about what this meant for London CIV and its purpose.“And if I’m perfectly honest I think London CIV is still suffering from not doing that,” he said. “That lack of vision really does cause a major problem.”Borough council documents indicate that some funds have expressed reluctance to pool assets within the CIV.The other asset pools that are emerging in the LGPS had mandatory pooling as their starting point, Grover pointed out. Although this still posed challenges for them, they did not have to deal with the transition from a voluntary arrangement to a mandatory one, according to Grover.Grover resigned as CEO of London CIV in early November. He said that, with space to reflect, his concerns had crystallised in his mind in the past three weeks.The London CIV was the first fully authorised and regulated fund management company to be set up by a local government entity, according to its website.It has so far launched nine funds to help council pension schemes pool equity and multi-asset mandates. The pool has £5.6bn (€6.3bn) under management currently and has said it aims to grow its assets to “more than £20bn”.Talent management questionsThe panel also discussed talent management in the context of the new LGPS pension structures.Susan Martin, CEO of Local Pensions Partnership (LPP), said that as a non-profit pension services provider it was finding it easy to recruit “quite good people” at the moment .“They’re coming with a vision and it’s all new,” she said.Things could become more difficult when the other LGPS pools were up and running, she said, but at LPP the feeling was that it was not about the level of pay but “the other things around it that you give people”.LPP is a collaboration between the London Pensions Fund Authority and Lancashire County Pension Fund and has some £13bn of assets under management from its two founder pension funds. The Royal County of Berkshire Pension Fund is also set to pool resources with LPP.LPP and London CIV are the only two of eight LGPS pooling structures that are already operational.Grover said London CIV had also experienced a “capital value in the newness of what we’re doing”, with individuals willing to take a pay cut and miss out on other potential benefits because of the novelty of the project.That capital would run out at some point in the next few years, however, he added. London CIV’s members would then find themselves confronted with the need to offer market competitive remuneration packages, while across the wider local government sector there were budget cuts and staff shortages.The debates about this would be difficult, he said.A large recruitment programme had helped London CIV grow from one person to 12, with a goal of being 20-strong by the end of the financial year. However, it was already experiencing “that treadmill of people doing their time and then moving on”.Stefan Lundbergh, director at Cardano Insight, said organisations facing constraints on remuneration needed to figure out what roles they wanted to have in-house and what they should outsource.Many lower paid jobs were actually quite important in pensions, such as asset allocation decisions, he said, while most “action-oriented” jobs like security selection and trading were better paid. The investment partnership set up by London’s borough pension funds is suffering after asset pooling became mandatory for its members, its former CEO has said.Speaking in Prague at IPE’s annual conference, Hugh Grover said London CIV – formed by the UK capital’s 33 public sector pension funds – began in 2014 as a defensive response to the threat of a full merger. At the outset, the participating funds were free to decide how much of their assets to pool.“Investing nothing was entirely OK,” he said. “Nobody was going to criticise a borough for paying their annual subscription and then investing nothing.”However, in 2015 the UK government announced that asset pooling would be mandatory across the entire local government pension scheme (LGPS). It has subsequently emphasised that there should be “minimal exceptions” to pooling and any assets held outside a collaborative structure should be continually justified.