Lawmakers and other experts question moving the state’s public health lab to Stillwater

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Last week Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that the state’s Public Health Laboratory is moving from Oklahoma City to Stillwater.

The plan is to move the lab to a temporary site before moving it again into the soon-to-be-built pandemic center.

The move is supposed to happen by the end of the year, but the former director of the lab says that would be next to impossible.

“I don’t personally think they could move it in two and a half months,” Dr. Garry McKee told KFOR. “I think it would take a year.”

Not only is moving the lab a logistical nightmare, especially during the pandemic, McKee says the lab provides other services that would be interrupted by the move, like genetic screenings for about 50,000 newborns a year.

“Some of those tests are time sensitive,” McKee said. “So a move of the laboratory requires that you contract with surrounding laboratories in order to maintain continuity of testing.”

Deputy Commissioner of Health Travis Kirkpatrick says he understands the concerns, but he’s confident they can move the lab without there being an interruption of services.

“We feel confident that not only are we going to move the lab, but we may even create some efficiencies in our process,” Kirkpatrick said. “We are going into a space that we can kind of open up to do a little bit better.”

McKee is not the only one asking questions. State lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, are also not sure about the move, some telling KFOR they had no idea it was happening until the announcement was made at the press conference.

“We were shocked, we were totally taken aback,” Senator Carir Hicks (D) said. “It feels as though everyone was left in the dark until the news went public during the press conference.”

Republican Representative Ryan Martinez went as far as announcing that he plans to file legislation to stop the move.

“That’s very concerning to me that in the middle of a pandemic you have experts saying ‘not the best time, not a good idea,'” Martinez said. “The governor plans to go forward with it anyway.”

Health officials insist moving the lab to Stillwater is the best move for Oklahoma, and say they are more than willing to explain why to anyone that has questions.

“We certainly look forward to opportunities to educate law makers,” Kirkpatrick said. “The intentionality of the planning that’s gone into this, the opportunity that this presents for the state.”

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