Oklahoma State Department Of Health Lab In Need Of Improvements

Thursday, December 11th 2014, 6:39 pm
By: News 9

If you think our State Capitol building is in bad shape, health officials say the state's public health lab is right up there with it.

The lab is outdated and cramped, and if it isn't fixed soon, officials say public health could be at risk.

The laboratory is closed to the public for safety reasons, but it's located in the basement of the 12-story Oklahoma State Health Department building and has been since the 1970's.

"This has been something that we have proposed for the last six years, and it's now at the critical stage," said Tony Sellars, spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Health Department .

Behind its closed doors, hundreds of thousands of health tests take place, including newborn screenings and flu tests. But the lab itself is being tested and inspectors have given it an "F."

"Delays, lack of space and capacity is something that is critical," Sellars said.

The state's public health lab has been cited twice for lack of space.

It has another inspection in February. If it doesn't pass, the lab could lose accreditation and be sanctioned.

"Just so many reasons for why we need to get this done immediately," Sellars said.

Doctors deal with flooding issues, mold, poor drainage, a failing A.C. unit, and mechanical problems but the cost to construct a brand new laboratory is steep.

The price tag is $49 million dollars total in bonds. The health department is asking the state legislature for $5.8 million each year for 10 years to pay it all off, similar to a mortgage payment.

If the health lab doesn't get the upgrades, another state might have to handle Oklahoma's testing, which could cost almost double what officials are asking for.

This lab is also the only level 3 testing facility in the state of Oklahoma for biohazard events.

It tests for all communicable diseases and is the only site that could handle an Ebola case.

"Testing capabilities, technology is much different than it was 40 years ago,” Sellars said.

“And the space that's there available, you just cannot retrofit to be able to do the things that are necessary to protect the public's health."

A new lab would be added on to the current lab, since there is extra space available outside the building.

Health officials are urging legislators to look at their proposal when the session begins in February. In the meantime, they'd like for lawmakers to come see the lab for themselves.