Washington AG files suit against Center for COVID Control for false practices across Yakima, WA state
Center for COVID Control locations in Yakima closed in January over fraud allegations
UPDATE on 2/17/21: Attorney General Bob Ferguson has obtained a preliminary injunction against the Center for COVID Control, meaning the company cannot operate COVID-19 testing services or collect consumer health info in Washington state until their case is concluded.
“Calling this conduct a ‘scam’ is an understatement,” Ferguson said. “It was unethical, illegal, and jeopardized the health of thousands of Washingtonians. Our investigation put a stop to Center for COVID Control’s Washington operations.”
As part of this court order, the company agreed that it will never operate in Washington state again.
YAKIMA, Wash. — The company behind a COVID-19 testing site in Yakima temporarily shut down operations Friday across the country, just days after authorities in several states launched fraud investigations into their testing practices.
Patients who have received tests at various Center for COVID Control locations have reported false negatives, missing or delayed test results, and improper use of personal protective equipment by staff.
Company officials acknowledged in a news release Thursday that staffing shortages and increased demand for testing due to the surge of the Omicron variant had caused “operational challenges” at several locations.
“This staffing challenge has impacted patient wait times, consistent opening hours and delays on reporting test results,” officials said in the release. “For this, we truly apologize and are committed to resolve these recent customer inconveniences and loss of confidence.”
Testing locations will be closed from Friday to Jan. 22, during which time the company plans to provide staff with additional training on how to handle and collect samples, how to communicate and provide customer service, and how to ensure they’re complying with regulatory guidelines.
KAPP-KVEW reached out to the Yakima Health District, Washington State Department of Health, Better Business Bureau, City of Yakima and Washington State Attorney General’s Office about the allegations made against the Center for COVID Control.
As of Friday afternoon, no agencies had disclosed any complaints made directly about the Yakima testing site, which is located at 1731 S. 1st St. Suite 200.
Yakima Health District officials confirm they removed the Center for COVID Control from their website due to fraud allegations
KAPP-KVEW was not able to speak with the Yakima Health District for an initial investigation into the Center for COVID Control testing site, but was able to follow up with them about the issue Friday.
YHD officials confirmed that while they had listed the location as one of the recommended testing sites on their website, the Center for COVID Control is no longer on the list.
“We just heard of those allegations from all the news media, so that’s how we decided to remove them,” communications specialist Stephanie Badillo-Sanchez said.
Badillo-Sanchez did not know at the time of the interview how the Center for COVID Control site ended up being added to the list.
“We definitely added them to our website, but like I said, once we heard all those allegations, we removed them from our website,” Badillo-Sanchez said.
Badillo-Sanchez said typically, clinics and pharmacies will reach out to the health district and ask for their information to be included on the website. She said she did not know if the health district vetted testing locations before adding them to the list.
It’s also unclear whether health district officials have contact with or inspect testing sites before including their information on the website. Badillo-Sanchez said she would make inquiries and attempt to provide further information at a later date.
“I’ll have to check, but I don’t think that’s part of our scope,” Badillo-Sanchez said.
When asked if the health district had received any calls or complaints about the Yakima testing site, Badillo-Sanchez said any inquiries about complaints should be directed to the Washington State Department of Health.
Badillo-Sanchez said health officials want to encourage people to use the community-based testing sites at Yakima Valley College, State Fair Park, or the Sunnyside Community Center.
Washington State Department of Health launches investigation into possible unlicensed practice
The Washington State Department of Health is investigating at least one complaint about the Center for COVID Control for possible unlicensed practice but did not disclose which location the complaint stemmed from.
“We cannot speak to an active investigation and are unable to provide more details at this time,” said Katie Pope, a COVID-19 public information officer for the department.
DOH representatives noted the company is not part of a state or county testing program, is not licensed by the department, and is not testing in this state, only collecting samples to send elsewhere for testing.
“We cannot verify appropriate handling of test specimens, proper storage of protected health information, or results,” Pope said.
In its news release Thursday, the company did identify the testing lab it has claimed to be partnered with as Doctors Clinical Laboratory in Illinois, which does show up as a federally certified laboratory on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
New complaints filed with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office
As of Tuesday, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office had received two consumer complaints regarding the Center for COVID Control testing site at 6720Regents Blvd. #112 in University Place.
The first complaint, filed Dec. 9, 2021, alleged that the person had received a COVID test at the location, but had not received the results in a timely fashion. The results were still missing when the person contacted the attorney general’s office.
On Jan. 7, a second complaint was filed against the University Place location alleging staff members were not using personal protective equipment properly. The complainant reportedly witnessed one staff member failing to change gloves between administering COVID tests and another wearing their mask improperly, pushed down under their nose.
According to the attorney general’s consumer complaint database, three new complaints were filed Thursday — all against the same Center for COVID Control location in University Place.
Better Business Bureau investigating complaints in the Pacific Northwest
Better Business Bureau PR and Communications Manager Logan Hickle said the only complaints received so far about the Center for COVID Control in the Pacific Northwest are from Oregon, regarding the Portland and Tigard locations.
Hickle was unable to provide details about the complaint made against the Tigard location, which is being handled out of the Chicago office. However, he was able to speak further about the scam tracker report filed against the Portland site.
In the report, a woman with two young daughters expressed worries about the location after her experience with it and seeing an article written about the Center for COVID Control. She said she felt uncomfortable when she took her two young daughters there to get COVID tests.
“The place was in an unused business space in an alley next to a homeless camp and disabled vehicles,” the woman said in the scam tracker reports. “There was broken glass out front, graffiti, old couches.”
According to the report, the family waited in line, were given fast and brief instructions; the woman was directed to scan a QR code with her phone and fill out personal information for herself and her two daughters.
“The place seemed very unsanitary, the staff was rude and unprofessional,” the woman said. “I’m not sure what they do with personal information, it doesn’t seem like a reputable place.”
Center for COVID Control ‘responding to inquiries’ from authorities
The Center for COVID Control attributed much of the issues with customer service and communication to the increased demand for testing. The company reportedly went from administering 8,000 tests a day to more than 80,000 tests daily over the past few weeks.
“CCC acknowledges this operational strain on customer access and delivery of results/status in some locations,” the release said. “We’ve made this difficult decision to temporarily pause all operations until we are confident that all collection sites are meeting our high standards for quality.”
The release noted that the Center for COVID Control is responding to inquiries from “several public health and regulatory agencies,” but did not provide further information about the nature of those inquiries.
Company officials said they will continue to process any patient samples collected through Thursday and provide results in a timely fashion.
The Center for COVID Control is directing anyone with concerns about a particular testing site or company practice to send an email to email@example.com.
UPDATE on 1/31/21: Washington’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson, has filed a lawsuit against the Center for COVID Control over deceptive practices in the Evergreen State.
According to an alert from the AG’s office, the lawsuit claims that the company violated the Consumer Protection Act by providing invalid, fake and delayed COVID-19 test results to the public.
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