Oklahoma’s public health lab will get multiple unplanned visits from State and Federal officials

STILLWATER, Okla. — State and Federal officials will be making unplanned visit to the state’s public health lab in Stillwater in the near future to make sure changes are being carried out after a critical Federal report.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report last month after a September inspection of the still relatively new operation after it moved from Oklahoma City to Stillwater in the middle of the pandemic. CMS is the primary government agency that studies health labs in the U.S.

The report lists numerous problems such as low staffing, improper training for new staff on how to handle samples, improper storage of samples, improper transport of samples, and allowing samples to expire before being studied. There was also no real system in place for employees to voice concerns and have them addressed as well as patient information being left out in the open in public areas of the building.

Oklahoma State Department of Health Interim Commissioner Keith Reed said the report gave the state an outside look at how the lab operates, and they have put in systems to correct the deficiencies.

“We are working on mock surveys to make sure internally, we are compliant. We have project management in place that looks at these individual actions we’ve taken so we feel like we have taken very strong measures to address any concerns that were mentioned in the CMS or otherwise are addressed and we have the best lab possible moving forward,” Reed said.

Reed told reporters in a news conference that CMS left specific things that the lab is required by law to carryout, and they are following that precisely. CMS and the state will also be making unannounced drop in visits to make sure things are in compliance on a normal day of operation.

When asked if there were enough samples that expired or spoiled in order to impact the state’s COVID numbers in September, Reed said it was a small group of samples that while they were wanting to be studied would not have swayed the data reported to the public by a large margin.

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