Public Health Lab

Gov. Kevin Stitt and state Cabinet secretaries at a ribbon cutting for the Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence and the newly relocated Public Health Lab in Stillwater. 

Oklahoma’s Public Health Lab is under federal investigation following months of turmoil after the lab was relocated from Oklahoma City to Stillwater.

Oklahoma State Department of Health officials have declined to answer The Frontier’s questions related to the investigation for the past two weeks. The Oklahoma State University Research Foundation, which oversees the lab’s nonprofit management group, also did not respond to questions before publication.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulates most laboratory testing for humans, said it conducted an on-site investigation of the Public Health Lab from Sept. 21 through Sept. 24 and is still collecting and reviewing information. Additional details won’t be available until a response is received from the lab and the investigative report is released, a CMS spokesperson said.

The lab operates under the Oklahoma State Department of Health but is managed by Prairie One Solutions, a recently formed subsidiary of the Oklahoma State University Research Foundation. The facility provides coronavirus testing, disease screenings for newborns and training for private labs.

Late last year, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the lab would relocate to Stillwater. Lawmakers, medical groups and lab employees criticized the decision to move the lab away from Oklahoma City’s biomedical hub amid the pandemic and without legislative oversight. The Stitt administration says the move will bolster the state’s rural medical capabilities and bring new investment to the area.

The relocation has been funded by $58 million in bonds previously authorized by the Legislature to replace the state’s old lab as well as federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

At different points throughout the transition, the lab has had to outsource screenings for newborns and other tests, including tuberculosis, meningitis and salmonella, because of equipment relocation and staffing shortages after many employees chose not to relocate to Stillwater, according to Oklahoma Watch and The Oklahoman.

By April, the lab’s new director had resigned after less than four months on the job.

The lab is currently accredited by the College of American Pathologists, though the date of the last on-site inspection was in January of 2019, according to a CAP spokeswoman.

The Frontier is a nonprofit, independent news source based in Tulsa. Frontier content is republished in The Transcript through a special content agreement. For more information on The Frontier, visit readfrontier.org.

 

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