Placer County Public Health Laboratory to close; county to contract with Sacramento for services

Published on February 07, 2018

Following a lengthy discussion, the Placer County Board of Supervisors today voted to authorize a contract with Sacramento County to provide public health laboratory services, and close the Placer County Public Health Laboratory in Auburn by the end of June.

The two-year, maximum $50,000 contract with Sacramento County would go into effect March 1. Under this contract, biological and environmental samples collected in Placer County and needing to be tested for infectious disease or other harmful agents would be transported by courier service to the Sacramento lab. All existing services will be transitioned to Sacramento except for blood lead and water testing, which would shift to private labs. Residents seeking those particular tests will be provided a list of alternatives.

This change will result in an estimated savings of nearly $1 million per year compared to the current service model. Seven employees will be impacted by the closure of Placer’s lab.

“We are in a time of limited resources and local governments have to collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions to provide services in a more cost-effective manner,” said District 3 Supervisor and Board Chair Jim Holmes.

“I’m saddened that this impacts employees personally, but at the same time we have to make decisions in the best interest of all residents,” said District 4 Supervisor Kirk Uhler.

Tuesday’s decision comes after a thorough review by an outside consultant determined that the county’s public health laboratory is no longer cost-effective as a result of declining demand for its services as well as advances in technology. Placer County went from processing a high of approximately 35,000 samples in 1998 to just about 3,500 in 2016. Going forward, the lab would have required a significant investment from the county’s general fund.

Following prior direction from the board, staff had explored several alternatives to closing the lab that attempted to save costs. Laboratory staff proposed cutting staff hours or demoting positions, and the county also looked at options to eliminate some positions. Ultimately, staff determined that these options would not result in significant savings and would likely diminish the quality of services.

Placer’s Health and Human Services Department will attempt to identify other positions within the department and larger county for the impacted employees, leaders said.

The new regional model is expected to have several benefits, including an improved ability to monitor the spread of disease across county lines, and better after-hours support. The county may experience longer transit times, but not necessarily longer turnaround times with test results. Regional lab models are common across the country and growing more prevalent in California.

“With some of the money we will be saving through this regional model, we can potentially expand existing public health programs and develop new programs,” said Public Health Director Rob Oldham. “This has been a challenging but necessary process to ensure that our public health services are evolving to meet the county’s changing needs.”