MEDFORD, Ore. – Local hospitals are gaining more access and flexibility when it comes to COVID-19 testing however, these changes aren’t available to all hospitals and don’t expand to all healthcare providers.
Sky Lakes Medical Center announced they are providing COVID-19 testing to anyone that wants to be tested. When asking on NewsWatch 12 at 4 on April 7, how they were able to provide so many tests Tom Hottman, Sky Lakes Medical Center’s Public Information Officer stated, “We have a lot of hardworking people who scrambled to get the pieces together, there’s a lot of small moving parts in getting the kits, if you will, not only getting the samples for testing but getting the samples to the lab where they can be analyzed.”
While it is no question that hard-working professionals fill our local hospitals and clinics, if it was simply hard work that produced enough tests to test anyone that wanted to be tested then I think it’s safe to say other hospitals would be doing the same. So why aren’t more hospitals offering open testing?
Dr. Jim Shames with Jackson County Public Health provided some perspective, “Our healthcare system in our country is not unified so there’s no reason to think when it comes time for testing, that every single entity is going to be sending all of our tests to the same providers.”
“There is no requirement in terms of sharing information; processes,” said Sharee Burns, the CEO and founder of Monarque Health and Wellness in Ashland, “If we have positive cases there are requirements with the CDC and the counties to report certain health concerns that a provider might have but in terms of offices working together or hospitals working together, that’s not a process that’s in place; it’s not required right now.”
“It’s a competitive market place and people have relationships with certain vendors, it’s not unlike other businesses in that respect,” said Dr. Shames, “It’s often a financial decision. Do you have the testing equipment already in place, that you’ve spent millions of dollars for? There are components you can use to test for COVID-19. Do you want to buy something new out-right? Does it look as if the equipment you have, the system you have able to get various steps you need to do the test; in which ways may they need to switch?"
Right now, Asante has a rapid sequencing machine to test patients that have been admitted to the hospital.
“That helps them identify whether they are cleared to go to certain floors, whether or not they have COVID-19,” said Burns.
The PCR machine is capable of producing test results within 4-6 hours, according to Burns. They also have a drive-through test site but tests are only administered with a doctors’ note.
“That test will be sent through Quest or LabCorp with a result typically anywhere between really 3-7 days,” said Burns.
“Some are able to do labs in-house and that’s true for Providence, that’s true for Asante. They have limited amounts of capability,” said Dr. Shames, “the state continues to do lab testing with a pretty quick turnaround for a very narrowly prescribed group of patients.”
Clinics and private offices, such as Monarque Health and Wellness, can administer a swab test, which is the same test as Asante’s drive-through test site.
“If your primary care provider can offer that service to you it’s really best not to over crowd the hospitals with patients coming in who are possibly sick with COVID-19 as well as possibly sick with other illnesses,” said Burns.
Providence in Medford is able to collect samples and send the tests to their lab in Portland, which has a PCR machine, capable of getting faster results.
“Providence has their PCR machine in Portland, not here in Medford so that’s why it’s taking 24 to 48 hours to get results back even though the machine itself gets results back within 4 to 6 hours,” said Burns.
Providence also allows private offices to send their tests through them to their labs.
“We have the ability to send through any laboratory of choice. We can create and order and send it to Providence or to Asante or the Quest or LabCorp,” said Burns.
Then there are commercial labs, which are available to everybody.
“Some of the hospitals might decide to do the rapid turnaround test for their employees that get sick or for people that are being admitted into the facility,” said Dr. Shames, “then they would send out to the larger national labs for all the other testing. I think that’s what a lot of other people are trying to do.”
Tests that are sent to large national labs have were back logged for weeks.
“Not only do you have to get the specimen, you have to ship the specimen and they put it in the queue and eventually they get to your lab and you get results back and it could take 5, 7, 10 days,” said Dr. Shames, “Everybody’s just getting up to speed so we’re finally getting the pathways to get more testing materials, hopefully we have enough PPE’s to do the test.”
While labs and test sites vary, the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) is consistent throughout all healthcare providers.
“Each office that I’m aware of, as well as all the hospitals, are trying to require enough PPE to protect staff and patients that are coming through,” said Burns.
While some providers have enough tests, they may not have enough PPE to equip healthcare workers, meanwhile other providers may have enough PPE but don’t have the resources or direct access to a PCR machine so they are sending off test results and therefore have to wait longer for results.
“It’s best to test who needs to be tested and not overburden or hospitals in emergency rooms with patients that just want to know out of curiosity,” said Burns.