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Pam Pontones, MA
Director, Surveillance and Investigation
After 13 years of service, State Epidemiologist Dr. Robert (Bob) Teclaw resigned from the ISDH to pursue an opportunity as the Director of the Human Health Services Division with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) in Washington, D.C. Bob’s last day with the ISDH was February 22. Dr. Jim Howell is serving as the acting State Epidemiologist.
Bob began his career at the ISDH in 1995 as the Veterinary Epidemiologist, assigned to conduct surveillance and outbreak investigation of zoonotic diseases. His previous experience as a USDA Regional Veterinary Epidemiologist, combined with skills and knowledge he maintained as a PhD-trained epidemiologist with a Master’s Degree in Public Health, served the Agency well. In 1996, the ISDH promoted Bob to the position of State Epidemiologist.
As State Epidemiologist, one of Bob’s greatest challenges and shining moments occurred in 1999 when a Planned Parenthood clinic in Indianapolis received anthrax threats. Although later determined to be hoaxes, Bob spent an afternoon and evening visiting local television stations for on-site, live evening news briefs. His exceptional ability to convey educational messages to and through the media calmed a panicked city. He would repeat this service in the fall of 2001, when the U.S. fell victim to the anthrax event within the postal system.
Bob’s calm, steadying, knowledgeable influence was also felt in his ability to diffuse emotionally laden and politically charged situations, such as suspected cancer clusters and environmental exposures. In 2007, two suspected environmental exposures, one at a mulch-producing plant and one at a residential subdivision, gained the attention of Indiana lawmakers. Bob’s leadership and unwavering priority to analyze and interpret data helped untangle these situations to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions. During the late 1990s and 2000, Bob worked with the ISDH Environmental Epidemiology staff and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to support the findings of a health assessment for a chemical site in Hammond. This was another high profile situation, with neighborhood concerns of child brain cancer and emissions from the plant. Bob researched and compared cancer rates with that area and surrounding areas with the rest of the state. Even though there were community interest groups urging the ISDH to state that the different types of cancer in the area were related to the chemical facility, Bob remained faithful to the data interpretation and stated that the facility could not definitively be the cause of the health concerns.
During his tenure at the ISDH, Bob served on the Agency Data Release Committee, working to ensure the integrity and proper use of data released by the ISDH. His service on the Agency Internal Review Panel (IRP) also played a significant role in 2007 when he coordinated two suspected bloodborne pathogen exposures at an eye clinic and a dental office. Both of these incidents resulted in intense legal ramifications and media exposure. Bob also provided continued support and expertise in improving data collection for racial and ethnic minority health issues. He was a key partner in implementing change to help achieve the Healthy People 2010 goal of “Eliminating Health Disparities.”