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Fresno Officials Want Jail Time in Future Illegal Medical Lab Cases
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By Edward Smith
Published 8 months ago on
August 21, 2023

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In the wake of the illegal Reedley bio lab and the legal Fresno facility from which it was born, Fresno city councilmembers want more control over labs handling infectious diseases.

An ordinance from councilmembers Garry Bredefeld, Miguel Arias, and Nelson Esparza threatens jail time and fines for lab operators who don’t follow rules.

The three councilmembers are holding a news conference Tuesday about the proposal.

Bredefeld declined to comment to GV Wire ahead of the announcement.

Under the proposal, anyone trying to open a lab with infectious diseases must notify the city about the business. The ordinance names tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, anthrax, and ebola, among other diseases.

Businesses also have to prove they have all necessary licensing from local, state, and federal authorities.

The city’s planning director would notify the Fresno City Council. And the city would then notify businesses and residents within 1,000 feet of the proposed site.

“Any person or entity willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable up to one year in a county jail and a $1,000 fine,” the proposal states.

A container labeled HIV was one of 20 diseases found by state investigators at the illegal Reedley medical lab in May 2023. (California Department of Public Health)

Universal Meditech Was Licensed. Inspections Were Limited.

The ordinance comes on the heels of the closure of Universal Meditech Inc., a Fresno lab whose infectious diseases and lab mice were discovered at an illegal site in Reedley.

Financial difficulties and disputes with landlords resulted in UMI closing up shop. One of the lab’s creditors — Prestige Biotech — took UMI’s biological materials to the lab in Reedley.

Prestige Biotech never received licensing for the materials at the lab in Reedley. UMI, however, was licensed by the California Department of Public Health, as well as Fresno County Department of Public Health.

A medical device manufacturing license from the California Department of Public Health expired in September 2022, according to the department. Inspections stopped after the license expired. Inspections are supposed to take place every two years, a CDPH spokesperson said.

The county licenses the storage of hazardous materials, which in UMI’s case, included ethanol, used as a disinfectant.

Electrical work at Universal Meditech Inc. was not up to code, said Nicholas Crawford, principal for Crawford Architecture & Planning.  (©Nicholas Crawford, Crawford Architecture & Planning)

A fire at the UMI facility in August 2020 sent city inspectors to the building in south central Fresno. Inspectors gave operators at UMI a list of violations needing correction, including faulty wiring and unsafe storage practices.

It wasn’t until October 2022 that inspectors returned to the building. Property owners Northpointe BP LP had requested service from then Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis.

The company left in December 2022 and the case was closed.

Numerous politicians have called for more oversight in medical labs. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said more information on the Reedley lab was needed to ensure there weren’t more illegal labs operating in other parts of the country.

“My concern is to get to the bottom of what happened here, but also look at where is this happening (in) other parts of this country as well,” McCarthy said in an interview with GV Wire’s David Taub.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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