Oklahoma State Health Department temporarily outsources newborn screening

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The State Health Department decided last fall to move their labs from OKC to Stillwater. The State Health Commissioner now says they are sending their newborn screening tests out of state for processing for at least the next month. That has some health professionals asking why.

State Health officials say the move is to keep up with national standards as they re-adjust their lab procedures following the move from Oklahoma City to Stillwater.

Opponents say shipping the tests out of state is fallout from bad decisions.

“They were using an outdated standard one that really we should have moved away from previously,” said Dr. Lance Frye, State Commissioner of Health.

The State Health Commissioner talking about the recently signed contracts to temporarily send newborn screening tests to Perkin-Elmer Genomics in Pennsylvania. 

The decision to make the move reportedly happening during an audit by the new lab director.

“During the review the decision was made to reference out testing to Perkin- Elmer genetics the nations leader in newborn screening,” said Dr. Michael Kayser, OSDH Lab Director.

Officials say Oklahoma is one of only three state not testing effectively for the metabolic disorder TT1. They say they are also making the move to increase the number of tests done during screening from 57 to 61.

“It’s good to see that we are adding a few more test to this panel, but again really, this should be something that we should be able to test for here in our state,” said Dr. George Monks, President of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.

The head of the State Medical Associations say other tests, like those done for ecoli have been farmed out to other out of state labs since the move.

“We have been sending these lab tests to Minnesota, to Pennsylvania, and physicians are getting letters that there may be delays,” said Monks.

But state health officials say outsourcing these newborn tests will cut turnaround time from 5-7 days to 3-4 and it will actually cost less per test to process.

They say that the people currently working for the state lab in that department will not be terminated. 

Commissioner Frye says the State Office of Accountability was used to review the decision.

“We don’t want to take any risks, we want to make sure that we are using the latest standards and have the best protocols possible for Oklahomans,” said Frye.

But opponents of this decision say it’s fallout from moving the lab in the first place from OKC to Stillwater.

“They lost a majority of their lab techs and a lot of that institutional knowledge that they had, so you’re seeing more and more lab tests farmed out to other state because we can’t handle those lab tests here in Oklahoma anymore and that’s really sad,” said Monks.

Commissioner Frye says this move is only slated to happen now through the end of April, when Oklahoma’s labs should be recalibrated to do all the necessary tests in-house.

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