Health Lab Accused of Lax Control Over Drug Testing

Times Staff Writer

Lax quality control at the San Diego branch of National Health Laboratories often led to lost fluid samples and inaccurate drug tests--one of which cost a San Diego woman her job--witnesses charged Wednesday before a House subcommittee in Washington.

Dolly Scott, a former manager, accused the lab of misplacing more than 100 specimens--including urine samples used in drug testing--in April, 1985. She also testified that lab workers frequently lost work sheets used to track test results, and mishandled samples.

The committee hearings are being held as Congress considers regulation of drug-testing labs. Members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations said the testimony from Scott and other witnesses who lost their jobs based on inaccurate drug test results underscore the need for legislation to regulate the industry.

'Devastating Consequences'

"A worker who receives an erroneous test can face psychologically devastating consequences," said Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Scott, who said she was fired because of her complaints about the low standards at the lab, told the committee that she grew disgusted at the "unconscionable quality" of testing at the company.

"Profit seemed to be the only consideration," she maintained. "Quality control became a concern only if it impacted the ability to generate revenue."

She has filed a lawsuit against National Health Laboratories charging it with wrongful firing.

Lost Job After Test

Collette Clark told the panel she lost her job as a clerk for San Diego Gas & Electric Co. when a urine test she agreed to take for a promotion turned up positive for marijuana. The test was done by National.

"I was tried, found guilty and sentenced--not by a jury of my peers, but by an inaccurate test by an inefficient laboratory," said the San Diego woman. "I was not given the opportunity to prove that I was not a drug user."

Clark filed suit against SDG&E;, which settled out of court after the utility learned that the lab could not find her urine sample.

Robert Draper, president of National Health Laboratories, denied Scott's allegations that quality control at the company was remiss. He outlined 10 steps he said the lab has taken to ensure that employees recognize the "need for quality," including the creation of an internal laboratory inspection group.

"In all my years in business," he said, "I have not forgotten that good quality is good business."

Need for Improvement

Still, Draper acknowledged that there remains a need for improvement among laboratories.

"I am not here to tell you that we are perfect--or that we will ever be satisfied until we achieve a true 'zero defect' standard," he said. "But I will tell you that I am confident that the internal control systems which we have put into place, coupled with the professionalism and commitment of NHL's employees have brought us to a point where we can avoid most problems. . ."

Draper also called for legislation to improve inspection procedures and proficiency testing of medical labs.

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