Director resigns at lab that faced scrutiny for its handling of Test Utah’s COVID-19 tests

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem on Friday, June 12, 2020.

The lab director at Timpanogos Regional Hospital — which was under federal scrutiny over the COVID-19 testing it performed for the TestUtah program — has stepped down.

Dr. Blair McGirk resigned this week as the Orem hospital’s lab medical director, according to a statement issued by MountainStar Healthcare, the hospital’s parent company. McGirk will remain on the hospital’s medical staff, the statement said.

Management of the lab was one of the factors federal inspectors listed among violations cited in a May audit — along with improper handling of specimens and not verifying the accuracy of a machine used in the testing process.

The audit, conducted by regulators for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted that McGirk was at home when TestUtah was getting up and running — self-isolating because he was in a high-risk group for COVID-19. For a month, the audit said, the director was unavailable, and had delegated duties to an interim director while the lab’s workload tripled. The audit did not identify the lab director by name, but a MountainStar spokesman confirmed it was McGirk.

MountainStar, in its statement, said “[McGirk’s] resignation was not a condition outlined in the hospital’s recent CLIA audit.” CLIA refers to Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, which govern medical labs nationwide.

A MountainStar spokesman would not comment on the reason for McGirk’s resignation, citing employee confidentiality. An interim director will oversee the lab until a permanent director is appointed, the spokesman said.

TestUtah — formed in the pandemic’s early days by a group of Utah tech companies — had been dogged with questions about the accuracy of the COVID-19 tests it ran through the Timpanogos lab since April, when data showed it was producing an unusually low rate of positive results.

TestUtah recently renewed its contract with the state of Utah, but Timpanogos is no longer involved; TestUtah is working with a different lab, California-based Fulgent Therapeutics, to process its COVID-19 tests.