As state officials continue to investigate a COVID-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Norwich that killed one resident this month and hospitalized several more, one outstanding question is whether workers tested for COVID-19 were properly notified of their results.
In late July, the state entered into a $6 million contract with PhysicianOne Urgent Care to run COVID-19 sampling and testing at about 30 long-term care facilities, including Three Rivers Rehabilitation Center in Norwich.
Three Rivers was the center of a recent COVID-19 outbreak, which so far resulted in 15 infections and one resident death, according to the state Department of Public Health.
In its contract with DPH, PhysicianOne Urgent Care agreed to turn around COVID-19 test results for residents and staff within 24 hours.
But a spokesperson for the company Friday wouldn’t confirm if they actually did that.
Jesse Martin, vice president of employee union SEIU 1199, which represents about 80 workers at the facility, said it took some workers a week to get results.
“I’ve discussed this matter specifically with a number of members today and they’ve told me that they waited as many as five to seven days to get test results,” Martin said.
Martin said fast results need to be a priority.
“As we all know, the most dangerous form of spread with COVID-19 are those people who are asymptomatic,” he said. “You could be shedding this virus. And in a nursing home setting, we are all too familiar on how this could gravely impact nursing home residents.”
The company’s contract with the state does provide a carveout for “supply chain” disruptions that may lead to testing delays, such as a shortage of swabs or testing reagents.
PhysicianOne Urgent Care defended their testing in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.
“We want to clarify around the 5 – 7 days test result turnaround,” said Rachael Durant, a spokesperson for PhysicianOne Urgent Care in an emailed statement. “PhysicianOne Urgent Care fulfilled the obligation to communicate positive test results directly with employees, with PhysicianOne Urgent Care providers contacting those who test positive right away when results are received from the lab.”
The company said negative results are communicated to the HR department at Three Rivers Rehabilitation Center, which did not respond to requests for comment.
But it did not deny missing the 24-hour window, citing laboratory delays outside their control.
“It is important to note that PhysicianOne Urgent Care, and many other testing providers without their own certified labs, need a lab to process the test, which impacts turnaround time on results,” Durant wrote. “PhysicianOne Urgent Care communicates results to patients as quickly as possible once results are received from the lab.”
Martin said it’s unclear if any workers who tested positive returned to work in the time between getting swabbed and getting their test results back.
“We want the Department of Public Health to find out,” Martin said. “They are in the driver’s seat here.”
“The lack of public accountability for these testing regimes and policies and procedures and the lack of accountability for all of these parties involved is shocking at this point,” Martin said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health declined to comment, but said the agency is investigating the matter and that any citations issued would be made public.