Monday, June 05, 2023 |
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Residents provide saliva samples for COVID-19 testing by TrueCare24 held Jan. 31 at Spencer Kalani Schutte District Park in Waimea. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)
Hawaii County officials said Tuesday they are satisfied with the performance of TrueCare24 Inc., the company contracted for county-sponsored COVID testing, despite reports of lost tests and late results.
TrueCare24 Inc. was the low bidder for the county contract at $1,500 per hour and $44 per test. Between Oct. 12, 2021, and Monday, the company performed 20,781 tests islandwide at a cost of $2.036 million, which is being covered by Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.
Despite those numbers, the company, which listed a Tampa, Florida, address on its documents, has come under fire for failing to abide by a 48-hour turnaround requirement as specified in its contract with the county, in addition to losing over 400 tests collected during an event held Jan. 7 at Old Kona Airport Park in Kailua-Kona.
Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball called for presentations Tuesday before the council Committee on Parks and Recreation and Public Safety after receiving phone calls from members of the community concerned with testing challenges.
“Either they were tested and not getting results back or they were taking four or five days,” said Kimball of the complaints she received.
Representatives from Hawaii County Civil Defense and the Department of Finance each provided a report to the panel and answered questions from the members.
“If you look at the scale, from October, November and the early part of December was pre-omicron levels. By and large, testing was within their contracted number of 48 hours. I can’t say they all were, but the great majority was,” Tom Olson, logistics and finance officer at Civil Defense, explained.
He said a lot of the tests conducted in which results were not provided within 48 hours came amid the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant.
“There were overwhelming demands placed on the vendor. There was a lot of demand for testing, which was pushing back result timeframes,” Olson said.
The company, he said, acknowledged “there were stresses on the system” and that “a lot of procedures” were put in place. Olson said the county has reviewed the procedures, but did not elaborate during Tuesday’s presentation.
“On Jan. 6, we noticed things were getting better, but then we had another surge and noticed it was greater than 48 hours,” he said. “Right now, they have put a lot of processes in place and since Jan. 28 they have had 17 events where all but three tests came back in the timeline.”
Olson said TrueCare24 also stated that results returned more than 48 hours after the sample was collected were late because typically the samples had to be re-run through the Phoenix-based lab due to an inconclusive result.
“They are working on communication now to a client if they have an inconclusive test,” he said.
Olson said at this time, TrueCare24 has met all of the standards in the contract, so the county is satisfied with their performance.
Kimball countered, saying since the contract specified all test results had to be returned in 48 hours, meaning the vendor has not met the conditions of the contract.
“If they are contractually obligated to get results back in 48 hours, we need to hold their feet to the fire,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz later added.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said the delays were legitimate because if it’s a test that is invalid, the company is trying to run it a second time.
He assured the council that the “majority” of test results are within the 48 hours, but did not provide a figure.
Kierkiewicz asked what the county is going to do to make sure TrueCare24 is holding up to contractual obligations.
“Unfortunately during the peak of omicron, the entire industry, there were shortages of kits, labs were overwhelmed, the whole system was taxed. I understand the issues it creates in out community,” said Magno. “We keep pushing them to comply with the contract. We will keep monitoring that they do.”
Finance Director Deanna Sako said tests that do not meet the 48-hour contractual deadline are still being paid. However, the county did not pay for any of the 407 tests that were lost were in January.
When asked what level of breach would be required to get out of the contract, Sako said significant changes to the contract would require it to be put out to bid again, but was confident with the vendor.
“We are working with them to get faster turnaround time. We are on top of it,” she said.
Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung wondered why test results were being sent to a mainland lab, creating another potential delay in getting results.
“It would behoove the county to have lab testing done on island. When we are talking 48-hour turnaround, it is a long time. A lot can happen in 48 hours,” he said. “People’s lives are on hold for 48 hours. Some smaller scale places on the island are getting two- to three-hour turnaround. If we could get something like that it would be terrific for our island.”
Magno said under the previous administration, the county supported Clinical Labs with additional analyzers.
“DOT (Department of Transportation) payed for a Panther Analyzer, which has a test capacity of 1,000 tests per day. Who the vendors choose to contract with for their testing, it’s up to them,” he said. “Perhaps in the next go around, we can put that into the contract that you have to have an in-state or on-island, but at this point it is not in the contract.”
TrueCare24 did not have a representative present at Tuesday’s meeting, nor has it responded to West Hawaii Today’s recent requests for comment on testing on the Big Island.
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