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State Health Board green-lights bonds for health lab

The proposed cost of a new public health lab has increased in price since it was first proposed nine years ago. As late as 2015, the Health Department asked for a $49 million bond issue. Health officials have called the laboratory situation dire because the accrediting agency called the current facility “antiquated and poorly designed.”

“Today was just the first step toward issuing the bonds,” said Oklahoma State Department of Health Chief Operating Officer Kim Bailey. “The board had to approve a resolution, which will be presented as part of the application process to the Council of Bond Oversight and the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority Board.”

The 46-year-old public health lab processes thousands of newborn screenings each year and is the only place in Oklahoma for testing rabies and drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. It also responds to public health emergencies, and is able to test rapidly for serious health threats, such as anthrax or the Ebola virus.

The Board of Health also approved a new organizational structure Friday that requires the chief financial officer to report directly to the health commissioner. Former Chief Financial Officer Mike Romero reported having difficulty communicating with top officials during the Health Department’s internal financial crisis last year.