“I’m a nurse, so I’ve done a lot of COVID tests, and that’s what tipped me off to this.”
That was Annie Childs, a nurse here in Madison who called me a few weeks back to voice her concerns about The Center for COVID Control here in Madison.
The Center for COVID Control is a company based out of Rolling Meadows Illinois, about a 30 minute drive northwest of Chicago. Their pop-up sites advertise free COVID testing with no appointment, and results back within 48 hours. According to USA Today, they have over 300 locations across the country, collecting more than 80,000 tests every day through their main test processing lab, Doctors Clinical Lab.
Childs says that as a nurse, her experience at the testing site made her feel uneasy.
“At first I was surprised there was only one person working, because people were streaming in. At first when you fill out the form, it asks for your drivers license number. And then what really tipped me off was, when she handed me the swab for the rapid test, it was what was used for the nasal-pharyngeal test, where they stick it all the way back in your sinuses and it’s really uncomfortable. So it’s the wrong swab, and I went to tell her and she said ‘well that’s what came with the kits,’” Childs says.
USA Today reports that a wing of the US Department of Health and Human Services, called the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, recently began investigating the company after lawsuits were filed by multiple states.
Yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that he was suing the company, accusing them of sending inaccurate test results, while accepting over $124 million from the federal government for their services. Both Oregon and Illinois have also opened lawsuits against the company.
A report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the pop-up testing sites often did not provide adequate training to employees, lacked equipment, and underreported test results to state authorities. USA Today reports that COVID tests were being delivered to labs in large garbage bags. Online newspaper Block Club Chicago spoke with former employees of the Centers for COVID Control, who said that they received just a few minutes of training, were told to lie to customers, and witnessed an inability to process all tests.
Michael Figueroa is an independent journalist out of Boston who was one of the first to start investigating the Center of COVID Control. He says he found issues over where the company gets its money.
“When I found the federal funding I immediately posted the funding for the Doctor’s Clinical Laboratory, which we believed to be fronted by the Center for COVID Control, which it seems the Minnesota AG has confirmed. What the Minnesota AG is also proposing is how the billing practices were being done, in regards to billing the federal government which is providing the funding for these pop-up COVID testing sites,” Figueroa says.
The Center for COVID Control had six locations around the Madison area, at least up until recently. All Center for COVID Control locations have since shut down, though their website says they plan to reopen on Saturday. I had the chance to go to one earlier this month, at their location on Park Street, which is no longer listed on their website. In fact, no locations are listed on their website, with locations page locked behind a password.
While at the Park Street site, multiple things stuck out as out of the ordinary. There were no paper forms to be filled out, the only forms available were online, accessed by a QR code on a small sheet of paper provided by employees. No smartphone, no test. This led at least one person to have to leave the line, having no way to fill out the paperwork required.
The forms themselves were standard, and I filled them out as I normally would. When let inside (they only allowed around 12 people in at one time, the rest had to wait outside), I was handed the nasal swab and instructed how to use it. Once completed, it was placed in a bag and brought to a back room.
Out of the ordinary? Yes. But nothing that raised too many alarm bells. I did get my test results back promptly, which came back negative. Tiffany Schultz, the Regional Director with the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau, says that they are currently investigating the Center after receiving 10 open complaints. Most of those complaints surround not not getting test results and fears about the collection of private information.
She says that COVID related scams are relatively new, but unfortunately not uncommon.
The city-county health department has received similar complaints. Public Health Madison Dane County tells WORT that they have received 23 complaints so far about the Center for COVID Control about the mishandling of test results. The health department contacted the company in late December to address these complaints, but as of today have not received any additional response. They say that the correct agencies have been notified of these complaints to investigate,
DHS told WORT that, while they were unable to comment on any specific investigations, DHS researches every complaint regarding COVID testing sites.
The Center for COVID Control did not respond to a request for comment by airtime. Company leaders have told other media outlets that the Omicron surge has stretched their operational policy in recent weeks.
Photo courtesy: Mufid Majnun / UNSPLASH