COVID test provider closes 1 week for staff training

A COVID-19 test provider operating in the Milwaukee area is at the center of a whirlwind of criticism. Thursday, its CEO announced it would temporarily shut down operations for one week to undergo additional staff training and education.

The Center for COVID Control can be found in strip malls and operating out of temporary trailers across the greater Milwaukee area. The Illinois-based COVID-19 test provider offers free testing with no appointment necessary. Its website advertises more than 275 locations across the country.

Earl Mickler is among a number of people raising concerns with Contact 6 about the Center for COVID Control. Mickler says he was pre-registered for a COVID-19 test at a Waukesha site, but before he even stepped foot in the building, a test result arrived in his inbox: negative.

"I wasn’t even here, why do I have a negative result?" Mickler asked.

Mickler says he called the Center for COVID Control but got no explanation for the erroneous result.

"I was on hold for, like, 2 hours," said Mickler.

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The Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois is alerting consumers that it’s "looking into the company" amid "numerous complaints both locally and across the country."

The BBB alert reads, "Consumers allege problems with not receiving test results, poor customer service, and requesting personally identifiable information".

The company’s rating dropped after the BBB says it failed to respond to complaints.

"The current rating is an ‘F’ grade, which is our lowest grade," said Lisa Schiller of the BBB of Wisconsin.

Kenosha County Health Officer Jen Freiheit tells Contact 6 that the company has been "a difficult one to work with from the beginning."

Freiheit says that most testing providers reach out to the Kenosha County Division of Health before launching operations in the city. She says company representatives from the Center for COVID Control did not.

Kenosha County Division of Health has gotten many complaints about the drive-thru site, which operates out of a temporary trailer on 47th Avenue. Complaints include lack of results, people sitting on hold for hours, improper use of PPE (personal protective equipment), improper swabbing, and incorrect billing.

"We don’t have the authority to close them," Freiheit said. "We do not run or control these sites."

FOX6 visited the Center for COVID Control location in Shorewood on December 23rd and witnessed employees working late to process test results as demand surged.

The Center for COVID Control does have its certification from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, which is investigating multiple complaints from different state agencies. The testing provider is not listed on several local health department lists of verified sites, like HealthyMke.com.

On Thursday, CEO and founder Aleya Siyaj announced the company would "pause operations for additional staff training and education." The temporary shutdown will start on Friday, January 14th with plans to open on Saturday, January 22nd.

"Center for COVID Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate, and most compliant manner. Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven’t been able to meet all our commitments," said Siyaj.

The press release goes on to say a recent staffing challenge has also "impacted patient wait times, consistent opening hours and delays on reporting test results."

"For this, we truly apologize and are committed to resolve these recent customer inconveniences and loss of confidence," said Siyaj.

The press release said the Center for COVID Control will reopen when they are "confident that all collection sites are meeting our high standards for quality."

Prior to the temporary closure, A FOX6 reporter visited a Center for COVID Control Site in Milwaukee near N. 76th St. and Douglas Ave and got a rapid test. A camera recorded the testing instructions he was given on site.

"Open right there, and peel it back like a cheese stick. Take the swab out, shove it in the nostrils 5 times," a staff member told him.

"Ok, so I’m doing this to myself?" the reporter asked.

"You are. I am not doing it to you. Then, you slide it back into the wrapper and then put back in the bag. Then, in there," the staff member said, pointing to a bin.

The reporter asked how far he should push the swab back into his nostril.

"As far as you’d like," the staff member said. "It’s gonna know. It’s gonna know you have COVID no matter how deep you go in."

Contact 6 asked the Center for COVID Control and the test manufacturer whether this was the proper protocol but did not get a response by deadline.

The company’s press release did say they "will use this operational pause for additional staff training in sample collection and handling, a refocus on customer service and communication practices, and ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines."

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Mickler said he was worried about the consequences of someone getting an inaccurate result from one of these sites.

"What if something happens to that person now? That they get really sick?" asked Mickler.

In its press release, the company said the issues affect a subset of locations, not all.

Before the closure was announced, Contact 6 spoke with Craig Runkel, a manager of three local Center for COVID Control testing sites, including the one the FOX6 reporter visited. Runkel told us his sites "provide very quick testing. We have good, polite people ... a lot of college students and nursing students."

Runkel said they were "doing the best we can, and I think we run a pretty good operation."

Elizabeth Goodsitt from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a statement saying, "We are unable to comment on specific allegations, complaints or investigations. But I can tell you, DHS researches each inquiry or complaint regarding COVID-19 provider testing or billing practices that do not align with current policies. We conduct outreach to providers to investigate each situation as appropriate. That includes education about current policies and regulations, and any next steps required by the provider and/or DHS."

News release related to this closure

January 13, 2022 (Rolling Meadows, IL) - Certain Center for Covid Control (CCC) locations are experiencing high demand for testing due to the Omicron variant surge.  This unusually high patient demand has stressed staffing resources, as has been widely reported, in a subset of our locations, affecting our usual customer service standards and diagnostic goals.

CCC acknowledges this operational strain on customer access and delivery of results/status in some locations and remains determined to provide accurate, trusted testing for our thousands of customers. To this end, and to ensure the highest customer service and diagnostic quality, the company is announcing today it will temporarily pause further collection of patient specimens effective Friday, January 14, 2020, with plans to reopen Saturday, January 22, 2022.

"Center for Covid Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate and most compliant manner.  Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven't been able to meet all our commitments," said CCC founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj.

"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."

CCC will use this operational pause for additional staff training in sample collection and handling, a refocus on customer service and communication practices, and ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines.

Siyaj continued, "CCC was founded to meet a critical market need to establish testing centers where COVID tests could be provided to patients rapidly and safely to minimize delay, and let people get on with their daily activities."

CCC is one of the first testing centers that required no appointments, and accepted all walk-in patients, as well as accepting most insurance and uninsured patients.  Over the last few weeks, the daily number of COVID tests that CCC has collected nationwide has increased from 8,000 per day nationwide, to a dramatic spike of more than 80,000 per day, equating to most individual testing sites seeing an overwhelming 10x increase in patients.

A key contributing factor to CCC’s present customer service challenges is the rapid spread of the Omicron variant within our highly valued, 3,000 frontline staff members at an extreme rate, creating an even more inopportune situation. This staffing challenge has impacted patient wait times, consistent opening hours and delays on reporting test results. 

"For this, we truly apologize and are committed to resolve these recent customer inconveniences and loss of confidence," added Siyaj. 

This period of employee training and management enhancements are intended to refocus CCC staff on its corporate mission of being the leading national provider of accessible, convenient, affordable, accurate and trusted Covid testing.

"CCC is a dynamic, fast-growing company providing vital services and we want to thank our customers and employees as we re-commit to exceptional customer service, enhance quality assurance, and ensure we are exceeding regulatory sample collection and clinical guidelines," said Siyaj.

CCC is also responding to queries from several public health and regulatory agencies.

Patient samples collected today, as well as other patients awaiting results, will be carefully processed today and tomorrow and results provided in a timely fashion.  

Customers and stakeholders with questions and concerns about a particular collection site or
company practice are encouraged to send an email to compliance@centerforcovidcontrol.org.

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