The Fresno City Council voted Thursday to “bring greater accountability and transparency” to medical laboratories in the hope of preventing an illegal medical lab like the one in Reedley from opening in the city.
In response to the measure, an attorney in the Fresno County Counsel’s Office wrote letters to several healthcare providers discussing the impacts, if any, it might have on them.
The updated code requires labs that have infectious diseases on site to notify the city of their operations. The city would then notify businesses and residents within 1,000 feet of the proposed site. It also requires labs to have all state, federal, and local licensing.
Much like with other conditional use permits, the public would have a chance to give input, according to Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias.
The measure comes on the tail of the illegal medical lab discovered in Reedley that had infectious diseases such as COVID-19, HIV, and malaria. The lab had moved to Reedley after closing in Fresno.
Nelson Esparza, co-author of the measure, called it a “common sense” update.
Councilmembers approved the item 6-0, with Councilmember Mike Karbassi absent from the dais. The item will come back for an affirming vote on a future agenda.
“We can bring greater accountability and transparency and safety in the future to the citizens of Fresno should we encounter another Reedley lab,” said Councilmember Garry Bredefeld during the meeting.
Back-and-forth accusations between the councilmen and county officials preceded Thursday’s vote.
Arias and Bredefeld held two news conferences during the week, advocating for the resolution while criticizing county leaders. Wednesday, the members distributed a redacted email to the media, sent from a deputy county attorney to United Health Centers.
“It appears that (the city resolution) would have an effect on every UHC laboratory within the city limits. I’d like to discuss this if you are available,” the email sent Tuesday at 1:10 p.m. said.
The email came from Rachel Madden, a deputy county counsel, who previously served as an attorney for Sante Health Systems. She sent similar emails to at least seven different local medical organizations about the ordinance.
Arias and Bredefeld vigorously denied the ordinance would affect existing medical facilities. They said the county was peddling misinformation.
Both Bredefeld and Arias are running for supervisorial seats in the March 2024 ballot.
County Attorney Responds
Fresno County Counsel Daniel Cederborg defended the emails sent from his office.
“This press conference was just an attack on an individual attorney that’s doing her job for the safety of the public. And I find that, you know, to be troublesome, at least,” Cederborg said. “There’s no effort to intimidate anybody or to unstabilize anybody.”
Arias suggested the county contact the Fresno City Attorney’s office. Cederborg said his office did. An email provided by the county showed the county sending the Fresno City Attorney’s office an inquiry Tuesday around 2:30 p.m. However, this was after Madden reached out to the medical groups.
“I don’t know what the city concern is with having more transparency about the ordinance, being distributed to people that it might apply to,” Cederborg said. “It’s not political activity to inquire just, hey, what’s the impact of this to see whether there might be an impact on the healthcare system in Fresno County as a whole.”
(GV Wire reporter Edward Smith contributed to this story.)