- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A new public health laboratory to replace a lab built more than 40 years ago, as well as a vaccine program to assure that all Oklahomans have access to immunization are the Oklahoma Board of Health’s top budget priorities for 2015, officials said Tuesday.

Officials said they will seek additional funds when the Oklahoma Legislature convenes in February for programs designed to reduce preventable hospitalizations and emergency room visits for the uninsured and to fund a public-private partnership to improve the health of adolescents and children.

The Board of Health has been stressing the need for a new public health laboratory for about six years to replace the lab housed within the Department of Health’s Oklahoma City headquarters. Capacity is limited in the lab, which was built in the 1970s, and its physical and mechanical systems are failing, said Julie Cox-Kain, deputy secretary of health and human services.

“This is critical public health infrastructure,” Cox-Kain said. “That is a very high-priority request for us.”

She said the cost of the lab was about $40 million when the proposal was originally presented to lawmakers but has grown to about $49 million.

“As time goes on, the cost increases,” Cox-Kain said. She said the agency will ask lawmakers for a $5.8 million appropriation for the fiscal year that begins July 1 for the first payment on a proposed 10-year bond issue that would finance construction of the laboratory.

Mark Newman, director of the agency’s office of state and federal policy, said the state risks the loss of accreditation by the College of American Pathologists as the laboratory deteriorates. Loss of accreditation would halt all testing in the lab and samples would have to be tested at labs in other states at an estimated cost of $9 million, he said.

“It’s like the commercial - do the math,” Newman said. “It’s a tremendous return on investment. And the cost is going to continue to go up.”

The agency will seek almost $2.7 million to purchase and distribute vaccines and administer the vaccination program, Cox-Kain said.

Few private providers purchase and stock vaccines due to their cost and the speed at which they pass their shelf life. The problem is exacerbated in rural areas of the state because of health care provider shortages, making access to basic preventative health services difficult, she said.

Oklahoma ranked 47th in the nation for 2-year-old immunization rates in 2013, according to information prepared for the board. Studies have shown that increased immunization rates contribute to a reduction in the spread of preventable diseases and a dollar spent on childhood vaccines saves about $16.50 in future health costs.

Newman said the board will also seek changes in state law next year to create a prescription monitoring program to reduce opioid overdoses and allow local farmer’s markets to sell whole, uncut fruits and vegetables and uncracked nuts without a food vendor’s license.


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