Public health lab looking to expand and outsourced testing is back

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oklahoma Department of Health moved its public health lab from a site in Oklahoma City to a location in Stillwater, outsourcing some testing to other states and sparking concerns. reviews.

Now that the state is transitioning to a more endemic response to COVID-19, the lab has work underway to make improvements and bring these outsourced tests in-house.

“Because we were trying to set up a new public health lab in the middle of a pandemic, it really helped us focus on what we needed to change and improve,” said Jan Fox, Deputy Commissioner for Health. sanitary preparation.

Fox said the condition of the original public health lab located on NE 10 in Oklahoma City was part of what led to the decision to move the lab to the Stillwater site.

An Oklahoma Watch report in December said that during the initial move, the lab lost some employees who were unwilling to make the transition to Stillwater. Others on the trip would have found conditions that were not quite at the level of functioning necessary for the operation of a leading laboratory. An anonymous complaint led to a federal investigation that uncovered a number of issues, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which created a remediation plan in November.

Fox said the remediation plan has been addressed and the lab is now focused on completing renovations and changes to bring back outsourced testing and expand the lab’s capabilities. This includes efforts to fill specific lab positions.

“It’s really important that we have the right people with the right skills on board,” Fox said. “We’re not hiring massive amounts of people, just a few key people to make sure everything is set up properly.”

The lab’s work has always included newborn screenings and testing for specific sexually transmitted diseases. Recently, the lab expanded its newborn screening procedures to include three other rare diseases.

“We’re looking for conditions that can be life-threatening in infants, and you need to respond very quickly if you identify a baby with this particular disorder,” Fox said.

Fox said the lab currently handles testing for gonorrhea, chlamydia and HPV, and being able to provide a rapid response to adverse test results can be critical for patients receiving treatment and controlling the spread of these diseases.

“We don’t test for HIV and syphilis or TB, so that will be our next phase,” Fox said. “We also have plans for other construction, because we want the building to be state-of-the-art, a little more efficient.

The increase in efficiency has been one of the key lessons the public health lab has learned from its response to the pandemic, Fox said. Currently, certain areas of the building layout are not used to maximize the use of time and space. The department hopes that as construction is completed and trailers are moved to site to bring testing back, it will allow these processes to run more efficiently.

In addition to working to bring back tests and increase efficiency, the lab is also working to establish a sample storage facility. The objective of this facility will be to establish a continuous system of collaboration with other laboratories in neighboring states.

“During this period where we have not been able to provide these tests, we have been able to send our samples to these states, but we also need to be able to do this for other states,” she said. “That’s part of it, is being good neighbours, being good collaborators – having state-of-the-art facilities – so we can give them what they’ve given us.”

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