Testing sites have popped up all over the country during the pandemic. The News4 I-Team recently heard from patients concerned they never got their test results after visiting a local pop-up site in Maryland.
First-grade teacher Debbie Overly from Olney desperately needed a COVID-19 PCR test before returning to the classroom in January.
"I was one of the thousands that were clamoring for a COVID test,” she said.
Overly went online and spotted a post for a pop-up COVID-19 testing site at a local temple in Ashton and signed up for Jan. 2. The testing site was run by MD Express Health. The owner, who asked not to be identified, told News4, “We saw an opportunity to use my healthcare skills to help my community out during this critical shortage of tests and never even thought things could go so terribly wrong.”
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What went wrong?
Overly was told her PCR results would take three-to-five days and the lab where her test was sent would contact her.
"I was checking my spam folder, I was checking my email, and I’m, you know, I’m thinking, OK, day four, day five, six, huh?" she said.
Investigations by the News4 I-Team
Six weeks later, Overly has yet to get those results.
MD Express Health told the News4 I-Team it was simply the COVID-19 test collector and it had “absolutely no control over PCR processing.” MD Express Health said it tried to get the lab to provide “more efficient service” and called the whole experience its “worst nightmare.”
The I-Team found those tests were sent to a lab outside Chicago called Care Clinical Lab. Over the phone, the lab’s owner said they were overwhelmed with the huge volume of tests coming in during that time. Plus 10 of his employees had COVID-19, creating a staffing shortage and causing delays in reporting results. The lab owner would not respond to a question regarding how many people actually got their results.
How it works
Laboratories that process COVID-19 testing samples are required to report results to the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS), a secure electronic reportable disease information system. According to the Maryland Department of Health, it cannot find any test result reports under the name Care Clinical Lab since Jan. 1.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials represents nearly 3,000 county and city health departments across the country. The association’s CEO, Lori Tremmel Freeman says oversight becomes more difficult and nearly impossible to control with so many testing sites.
"The more expansive the testing effort got in, the more partners involved, the less sort of control you have over quality and things like that in terms of servicing the public,” said Freeman.
Freeman says so many COVID-19 testing sites and labs were springing up – outside of those run by health departments – to offer as much testing as possible during critical times of the pandemic.
Maryland’s Health Department said no license is required to open a testing site, but labs must have a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which the lab near Chicago does.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records, Care Clinical Lab has been reimbursed more than $3.2 million for testing uninsured patients. News4 asked CMS if there are any consequences for a lab that doesn’t provide results, but the agency never responded.
The operator of the pop-up site in Ashton said it offered testing in the past without any lab issues. But as soon as it was aware of the recent problems, it decided to shut down.
Need a COVID-19 test?
Use only the locations listed on county or state health department websites.
Be wary of sites that have fees.
If results are delayed, ask the testing site what lab it used and contact them directly.
A testing site may ask for identifying information if a patient doesn’t have health insurance, but Freeman said normally patients should not have to provide things like a social security number or passport, which Overly did and now regrets.
“I’m going to definitely be a little more cautious about not getting caught in the moment. Let me step back and take a breath,” said Overly.
Reported by Susan Hogan, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot by Lance Ing and Steve Jones, and edited by Steve Jones.