Private COVID testing sites have minimal state oversight; DOJ Investigation – Blogtown

Center for Covid Control testing location in the Hollywood neighborhood. Isabelle Garcia

State and county public health agencies have little to no oversight of COVID-19 testing facilities run by private companies, the Mercury found.

As demand for COVID testing in Oregon far exceeds supply, testing services offered by Multnomah County and its community partner organizations, Oregon Health & Science University, and major pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS are growing. fill up quickly.

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At the same time, rapid home COVID tests seem to disappear from pharmacy shelves almost as soon as they arrive. This has caused Portlanders to turn to pop-up testing clinics run by private companies for their testing needs. Although these test sites require a federal certificate to operate, any additional monitoring of test sites is guided by a community complaint process.

This week, the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a civil investigation into the Center for Covid Control, a national company that claims to offer rapid antigen and PCR tests at more than 300 sites in 29 states. , including three test sites in the Portland metro area. . All three test sites are listed as temporarily closed on Google as of Thursday morning. The survey was first reported by Willamette Week.

The DOJ is basing its investigation on two complaints filed in October 2021 by Portland residents who were concerned about the validity of Center for Covid Control testing sites. The complaints detail the experience of one person who took a rapid test that passed its expiration date and another person who never received their test results.

Oregon DOJ spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson confirmed the investigation launched this week, but did not respond to the Mercury‘s asks why it took the state four months to launch a civil investigation.

In a press release Wednesday, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum warned the public about “testing sites that appear suspicious,” but did not mention her office’s investigation.

“We’re keeping a watchful eye on the market and working with the OHA to make sure testing sites comply with state laws,” Rosenblum said.

Especially, USA Today published an investigation this week highlighting issues residents in several states are having with the Center for Covid Control. WINK News, a Florida news agency, also published an investigation into Center for Covid Control testing sites earlier this week after a Florida family received their supposedly negative test results from the site via email. of the company’s test while they were still online waiting to be tested. .

A hand written sign saying sorry we have no more tests

A sign on the front door of a Center for Covid Control site. Isabelle Garcia

According to County and State Public Health, neither the state nor the county has explicitly partnered with the Center for Covid Control. That means the company’s testing sites have not received county or state funding and have not been explicitly approved by regional public health agencies.

Oregon Health Authority (OHA) spokesperson Rudy Owens told the Mercury that all testing sites must obtain a CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) certificate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and report all test results to the OHA to be in compliance with state rules.

The Center for Covid Control has a CLIA certificate identification number – the number is listed on the results page of each patient tested by the company. The company hasn’t shared any test results with the OHA, however, according to Owens. The Center for Covid Control has been operating in Multnomah County since at least October 2021.

Owens said the OHA referred this matter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency responsible for enforcing CLIA licenses.

“Throughout the pandemic, and particularly during the Delta and now Omicron surges, the OHA has had to prioritize its actions, and due to capacity constraints, it has not been able to monitor all testing sites in Oregon,” Owens said. “As we become aware of complaints or non-compliant sites, we work with the DOJ and CMS to investigate and take appropriate action.”

Owens also said the majority of testing in Oregon is done through the health care system, not ancillary contextual sites like the Center for Covid Control. Because of this, Owens said, “there has been very little concern about testing facilities.”

Although the county and state may not have explicitly partnered with the company, callers to the Multnomah County COVID Hotline were directed to local Center for Covid Control.

“The Multnomah County COVID Call Center is doing its best to connect people seeking testing to known and trusted testing locations,” Multnomah County spokeswoman Kate Yeiser said. “The surge in recent weeks means that demand for testing has far exceeded local capacity, especially for people without health insurance who need free testing. In these cases, the call center essentially serves as a resource to help the individual find their next best option, whether through private testing or assistance in finding an at-home test.

According to Yeiser, call center operators identify these next best options and “do not necessarily indicate an endorsement or suggestion” to the caller. The county will stop referring callers to a testing resource if it is notified by the OHA that the testing site is operating outside of state rules.

As of Wednesday morning, Multnomah County had not received a notification from the OHA that Center for Covid Control testing sites should be removed from the resource list. However, the county independently decided to remove the three Center for Covid Control testing sites from its resource list Tuesday morning after the Oregon DOJ’s investigation was launched.

Portlanders who have recently been tested at Center for Covid Control sites have reported no practices of concern.

Portlander Marc Meadows was due for a test on Sunday, January 9, after a family member he was in contact with a week before tested positive for COVID. Meadows, an OHSU employee, normally receives COVID testing at work, but OHSU does not offer employee testing on weekends.

After struggling to find open testing sites on the Multnomah County website, Meadows called the Multnomah County COVID-19 hotline. The call center operator directed Meadows to a Center for Covid Control location near Johnson Creek.

Meadows told the Mercury that on the walk-in site, he was given a piece of paper with a QR code on it which, when scanned, took him to a page where he filled in his name, email address and uploaded photos driver’s license and insurance card – all information that is also collected by larger drugstore testing sites like Walgreens. Meadows self-administered a nasal swab, placed the sample in the provided saline bottle, and dropped the sealed bottle into a large collection bucket. Five hours later, Meadows received a negative test result via email.

For Naomi – a Portland resident who asked to be identified only by her first name for privacy reasons – going to the Center for Covid Control site in the Hollywood borough on December 23 was her first COVID testing experience. . Naomi found the site by Googling “COVID test near me”, a search process recommended by the Biden administration.

Upon arrival, Naomi was also given a paper with a QR code leading to the registration page and then a box of rapid antigen tests – similar to home kits sold in stores – by a site employee wearing disposable scrubs. Naomi returned to her car to take the test and wait for her results to appear on the rapid test stick, but the employee told her that it was important for her to fill in her name, date of birth and the result of his test on the sheet of paper provided. According to this employee, the Center for Covid Control would not be reimbursed for rapid home tests if it did not report the results of the tests distributed.

“They were really clear that it was very important that we bring the test back,” Naomi said. “She said, ‘We don’t get paid for the test if you don’t bring them back. “”

When contacted by the Mercury over the phone, an employee of the Center for Covid Control said all questions should be directed to the company’s press email and declined to answer questions over the phone. The company did not respond to the Mercuryemailed questions about how they fund their testing operations.

According to Willamette Week, the OHA has not provided any funding to the Center for Covid Control. The US Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to the Mercury‘s question whether they reimbursed the company for COVID testing.

When asked if the OHA had any advice on how Oregonians can find reputable COVID testing sites, Owens said anyone who thinks they’ve been involved in a scam should report their experience to the DOJ in the US. ‘Oregon, but did not provide any guidance on how to preemptively identify red. flags at test sites.

The OHA test locator does not currently list any of the Center for Covid Control testing sites.

Because her experience at a Center for Covid Control site in December was her first time taking a COVID test, Naomi wasn’t sure if her experience was normal or not.

“Maybe a few things seemed weird, but this whole COVID situation is weird,” Naomi said. “I mean, I did a healing [another private company offering free tests] test last week in the field at Revolution Hall. I don’t know what is normal.