Amazon to Close Employee COVID-19 Testing Lab in Ky.

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IN A MOVE THAT MAY SURPRISE SOME OBSERVERS, Amazon announced it will close its COVID-19 employee testing laboratory in Hebron, Ky., which is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. 

This is the second large COVID-19 clinical laboratory to publicly announce it will cease operations instead of transitioning to conduct other non-COVID testing for either its employees or the public. 

In early April, the state of California announced it would close its Valencia Branch Laboratory, which was built to handle COVID-19 tests in that state. (TDR, “State of California Cancels COVID-19 Test Contract with PerkinElmer,” May 16, 2022.)

In a letter to Kentucky officials, Jennifer Detmer, Amazon Pharmacy’s Director of Human Resources, noted that 150 people would lose their jobs within the next few months because of the closure.

Clinical laboratory positions that will be eliminated include:

  • Forty medical laboratory associates.
  • Twenty-nine medical lab assistants.
  • Nine medical lab managers.
  • Seven medical lab technologists.
  • Two bioassay scientists.
  • One senior medical lab manager.
  • One lab engineer.

Lab testing at the Kentucky site is expected to end in the summer. “Active operations are expected to cease effective July 2, 2022, with wind-down operations continuing through and until Aug. 31, 2022,” Detmer wrote. Detmer did not provide any reasoning for the lab’s pending closure. The letter’s intent was to update Kentucky officials about the upcoming layoffs.

Generally, the clinical laboratory and pathology industry is adjusting to a lower demand for on-site polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing given the reduction in COVID-19 cases across the country, compared to the surge in cases at the beginning of the year. 

In addition, many people are becoming accustomed to taking rapid antigen COVID-19 tests at home, and federal and state governments have promoted such serological testing to prevent infection.

Amazon’s CLIA Lab Facility

The Dark Report was among those surprised to learn that Amazon planned to close this CLIA-certified clinical laboratory facility. In recent years, Amazon’s plans and actions to expand its presence in healthcare were widely-publicized. 

Amazon’s reputation for disrupting multiple industries looms as a threat over the U.S. healthcare system. Its acquisition of PillPack in 2018 triggered major responses by retail pharmacy chains, for example. 

Thus, the willingness of Amazon—in the early months of the pandemic—to build the COVID-19 CLIA-certified clinical lab large enough to provide SARS-CoV-2 testing to its one million employees was seen by some as a way to learn more about the clinical laboratory industry. It was reasonable to assume that, once the pandemic had ended, Amazon might repurpose the COVID-19 lab facility to provide routine clinical lab tests to its employees under its health benefits plan. 

Amazon’s announcement of the closure of its COVID-19 lab facility means that the company may want to develop alternative ways to deliver clinical laboratory tests, whether to consumers or physicians and their patients. 

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