Shakeup at troubled Mass. lab

Friday September 14, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- One manager has been fired and another has resigned as a result of the widening investigation into a Massachusetts laboratory that was closed amid allegations that tests on tens of thousands of drug samples were mishandled, state officials said Thursday.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration also released figures showing that the chemist at the center of the probe, Annie Dookhan, had done an "unusually high volume" of testing between 2004 and 2011, in some of those years performing nearly twice as many tests as the Boston lab’s second-most productive chemist.

Officials remained mum on other details of the case, citing an ongoing investigation by the Massachusetts Attorney Gen eral. They would not speculate on a motive for the chemist’s actions, which could place in jeopardy thousands of convictions and pending criminal cases against drug defendants.

"I don’t know the motive for why she did this, but I don’t think it was simple sloppiness," said Secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby.

Col. Timothy Alben, head of the state police, added that he believed the actions to be "criminal in nature."

Dr. Linda Han, director of the Bureau of Laboratory Sciences since 2010, resigned after being informed she faced termination, Bigby said. Julie Nassif, director of the analytical chemistry division, was fired and a third person, identified only as Dookhan’s immediate supervisor, remained on the job but faced disciplinary proceedings.

The management of the lab also failed, Bigby said. "There were several red flags that should have been noted ... but these flags were either missed or ignored," she said.

Bigby said it was "unacceptable" that managers of the lab waited several months before informing the commissioner of the Department of Public Health of potential problems. The agency oversaw the Boston lab until July 1, when it was transferred to the state police under a budget directive. Patrick ordered the lab closed on Aug. 30.

Bigby said that while lab supervisors made poor decisions, she did not think their failures were intentional.

Dookhan was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 1 and resigned the following month. She has not responded to requests for comment.

Dookhan performed more tests on drug samples than any other chemist in the lab in every year from 2004-2011, according to the figures released by the administration on Thursday.


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