California’s health department has reversed its decision to impose sanctions on a COVID-19 testing lab in Valencia for “significant deficiencies,” finding no definitive proof to allegations by a whistleblower that the lab destroyed data.
The Valencia Branch Laboratory, run by Massachusetts-based PerkinElmer, had problems in its documentation, record keeping, process and training, state inspectors found. However, authorities could not confirm the more serious allegations raised by the whistleblower, which included posting too many inconclusive results, uncertified technicians sleeping on the job and the swapping of specimens.
The problems found by inspectors were being addressed by the company, the California Department of Public Health said in a report issued Monday, according to multiple media reports. Last month, the CDPH’s laboratory field services division said it intended to impose sanctions on the lab, but 10 days later the state renewed its $1.7 billion, no-bid contract to operate the lab with PerkinElmer.
That decision drew the ire of state Sen. Scott Wilk, who represents the 21st District, which includes the Antelope Valley.
“287 days after whistleblower allegations exposed deficiencies at a state-funded COVID testing lab, the report looking into mismanagement is out. It was supposed to be out mid-March. Californians deserve better accountability from their government,” Wilk tweeted.
The health department said the contract was renewed due to concern over another possible surge in COVID-19 cases this winter, and added that the state still has the right to end the contract if it chooses.
Officials said the lab plays “a critical role” by providing tests for people considered at high risk of COVID-19, including essential workers, those in care homes and disadvantaged and minority neighborhoods. PerkinElmer said it had worked with state health authorities to address the concerns, and noted that the laboratory had been found in “full compliance” with state laws and regulations.
“This is further evidence that PerkinElmer and CDPH remain steadfastly focused on operating a best-in-class laboratory for the benefit of California residents,” the statement said.
The lab opened on Oct. 30, 2020, and less than two weeks later officials were already finding problems with its results.
On Nov. 10, 2020, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters that the lab had produced an unexpectedly high number of inconclusive results, but he said the problems that caused the issue had been identified and addressed.
The $25 million lab was touted as a way to dramatically lower the cost of coronavirus testing.