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CBS2 Investigates: COVID Testing Lab Operating Without Authorization In California

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - A CBS2 investigation has found a COVID testing lab that got millions of dollars of taxpayer money has been operating without authorization in California, and federal investigators said the lab's test results could be flawed.

More than 180,000 people in Los Angeles County alone used this lab, CBS Investigative Reporter David Goldstein found.

While many people have flooded COVID testing sites, they don't really know what lab is actually doing the testing or whether the results can be trusted. CBS2 discovered one lab that state and federal officials are investigating, and some people who had their tests sent there said they knew something wasn't right.

"It makes me angry, I'll be honest," said Steve Norberg.

Norberg, his wife and three daughters got test for COVID and the results were far from clear. Asked whether his daughter was negative or positive, Norberg had this response:

"That's a very good question."

Steve Norberg, his wife and three daughters all got COVID tests and then found there were issues with the results from Northshore Clinical Labs. Feb. 10, 2022 (CBSLA)

The Norbergs went to a testing site in Long Beach, where 19-year-old Stephanie got a rapid test that came back negative. They then opted for a PCR test that was sent to Northshore Clinical Laboratory in Chicago.

Stephanie received an email 10 days later from Northshore showing she now tested positive for COVID. Then five days later, Northshore sent another email showing that based on the same sample, she was really negative.

CBS2 Investigations asked Steve Norberg what was going through his mind, while receiving all the different results of his daughter's COVID test.

"A lot of frustration and questions about the testing center, whether it's legit and whether they're doing it right," Norberg said.

Northshore Clinical has labs in Chicago and Ohio, and contracted with pop-up COVID testing sites around the country. The labs "are" licensed by the federal government to do COVID testing, but not licensed to process PCR tests from samples in California, according to the state Department of Public Health, who confirmed that Northshore is under investigation.

Even so, the LA County Department of Public Health said Northshore has processed more than 183,000 COVID tests in the county so far.

"That's alarming to me," said Steve Norberg.

CBS2 Investigates also found federal inspectors cited the lab for what's called immediate jeopardy, the highest level of infraction and, according to Dr. Omai Garner, Director of Point of Care Testing at UCLA, very serious.

"Immediate jeopardy means that patients could be harmed by the practices that are happening at that laboratory," said. Dr. Garner.

CBS2 showed Dr. Garner the December 2021 inspection of Northshore Lab by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, all 29 pages of it.

"To be honest with you, I've never seen a lab that had this many violations," he said.

Inspectors found that Northshore failed to follow the manufacturer's instructions on COVID testing. Plus, Northshore failed to ensure the confidentiality of patient information and, finally, a lab director, according to the feds, didn't meet federal requirements.

"Anybody who had ever sent anything to this lab needs to be very concerned that the results that they got back are accurate," Garner said.

That's a lot of people. According to the CMS inspection, Northshore conducted 5 million tests nationwide in 2021, and data obtained by CBS2 Investigates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Northshore has taken in $150 million in taxpayer reimbursements nationwide from the feds for COVID testing.

That also doesn't include any money billed to private insurance companies.

A spokesman for Northshore Labs responded by saying:

  • They've retained the nation's leading laboratory consultancy to help support processes, procedures, and technology to better improve their lab services
  • They say the lab director was replaced
  • They claim they are allowed to send tests to their labs outside the state

However, the California Department of Public Health said their license - granted in January - only allows them to do in-person rapid testing at a location in Northern California, not PCR tests and some other testing sites are taking notice.

Guardian Testing, which has COVID sites at many LA Sheriff's Department Stations said on their website they're no longer using Northshore as their processing lab.

"It's absolutely outrageous," said Jerry Flanagan, with Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group.

Flanagan said the state needs to regulate testing sites to make sure this doesn't happen.

"If you're operating in California as a testing site, we need to know where you're sending this stuff. You can't send it to these sites that are violating federal law," he said.

CBS2 Investigates confirmed that Northshore is not only under investigation in California, but in Illinois and several other states. The company itself said they're not longer doing testing for pop-up sites until they can improve the conditions in their lab.

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