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Complaint started federal investigation of state public health lab

Oklahoma State Department of Health

The state Public Health Lab did not come under federal scrutiny by chance.

In a briefing last week, Interim State Health Commissioner Keith Reed discussed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ investigation, which was first reported by The Frontier and included a multi-day, on-site inspection in late September.

“So, there was a complaint made to CMS – and that’s something that anybody has the right to make a direct complaint to CMS – and they were following up on that complaint. Those complaints are considered confidential and, in many cases, anonymous as well. So, it’s not something that I have the details of the complaint, but that’s what initiated it,” Reed said.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health previously issued a statement saying it had taken several steps to address deficiencies found at the lab, including modernizing security, reporting COVID-19 sequencing results, ensuring proper collection and handling of test samples, and transferring the lab’s federal certification number.

“These were the broad categories that we identified that we are working on and addressing, but the details, the more expanded information, is based off of the plan that we’ve submitted to CMS, and we really need to wait for their response back to us to acknowledge that they have accepted those plans or if we need to talk about more things we need to do,” Reed said.

Reed said OSDH is waiting for CMS approval to release the report. The public health lab was relocated from Oklahoma City to Stillwater during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move sparked upheaval, with about one-third of staff resigning and the lab’s new director quitting four months into the job. The lab is still without a permanent director.

Several screenings done at the lab were temporarily outsourced.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.