Free COVID-19 Testing To Be Available To Uninsured
Last updated 7/13/2020 at 1:14pm
With COVID-19 testing options limited in Transylvania County, particularly among those without insurance or on low incomes, the Brevard Music Center has banded together with the Pisgah Health Foundation to offer free coronavirus testing beginning this week.
Beginning on Wednesday at 8 a.m. until 11 a.m., free drive-thru testing will be available at the Brevard Music Center’s main parking lot. Testing will only be available to those who are uninsured or on Medicare.
Testing will be available during those hours every Wednesday and Thursday. Hours may expand or contract depending on demand.
Mark Weinstein, CEO and president of the Brevard Music Center, said the impetus for the project came partially from an acquaintance’s difficulties in getting a local COVID test.
“My friend had insurance and had the money to get tested, but even he was getting frustrated by the whole situation,” Weinstein said, adding that there didn’t seem to be clear, definitive answers regarding testing options in the county.
That frustration, Weinstein said, charged him to reach out to the Pisgah Health Foundation to try and resolve the situation.
“It just got me thinking about the people that don’t have health insurance and don’t have the money to spend to get a test and I felt really bad,” he said.
“The Brevard Music Center saw that there was nowhere for those without health insurance to go to get tested for free in Transylvania County. We felt we had to do something for the most vulnerable of our neighbors,” Weinstein added.
Cathleen Blanchard, a board chair with the Pisgah Health Foundation, said she was grateful to work with the Brevard Music Center to assist the local community during this time of need.
“Pisgah Health Foundation is pleased to be able to collaborate with Mark Weinstein and Brevard Music Center in providing COVID-19 testing, filling a much needed gap in our community,” Blanchard said.
Keystone Laboratories, of Asheville, will administer COVID-19 tests and antibody tests. Results should be available within 96 hours.
Weinstein said one of the main drivers behind this initiative was to give people without insurance or on tight budgets the opportunity to get tested.
“What about the people that can’t afford a test or don’t have insurance?” he asked. “What we have to remember, with everybody being human, is that these people are waiters and waitresses. Don’t we want to know that they are safe, too? Not only for themselves but for their families. And these are the people without a lot of income. And it’s important for those people to get tested and stay safe.”
It’s been a tough summer for BMC. Weinstein estimates the Music Center has lost $4 million due to the COVID shutdown.
However, Weinstein said the utmost priority for the Music Center has always been the safety of the community.
“When we made the decision to close, we did not rely on what the monetary outcome would be,” he said. “We only looked at the safety of the people who would be on our campus and off our campus. We couldn’t guarantee that everybody would be safe and the last thing we wanted was to bring coronavirus to Transylvania County.
“We care about our community,” Weinstein added. “We live next to a historic, wonderful neighborhood, in the Rosenwald community. We care about our neighbors and we care about everybody we live with. To be able to do something good for our community, we will do that every time we can. Especially, during a health crisis.”
Testing In The County
Currently, there are only two locations offering COVID-19 tests in Transylvania County – the Brevard branch of Blue Ridge Health (BRH), located at French Broad Place, and Sisters of Mercy Urgent Care.
Both offer COVID-19 testing done through LabCorp and both have been doing testing since the pandemic broke out in March.
Dr. Richard Hudspeth, with Blue Ridge Health, said BRH offers testing in eight counties across Western North Carolina. So far, he said, the Brevard branch has conducted roughly 600 tests, not only at their office, but also at off-site locations like businesses and churches.
Initially, Hudspeth said testing was primarily confined to those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, but in the past few weeks and months, the demographic for those getting testing has expanded to include people who traveled to potential hot spots or those who were in close contact with high-risk people.
Despite restrictions on who can get tested loosening, Hudspeth said the screening protocols conducted prior to administering tests continue to adapt as the scope and breadth of the virus continues to change.
“As a physician by training, I would say that it is always preferable to assess patients before testing,” he said. “For example, knowing some patients are symptomatic who may have diseases that place them at a higher risk for a potential worse outcome are important things to know when administering the test. However, we are now faced with an increasing number of people exposed, an increasing numbers of requests and an increasing number of positive test results. So, we are adapting our protocols to our current reality.”
Sisters of Mercy requires a patient to have a virtual visit with a doctor prior to being tested. Marina Driggers, front desk administrator, said the demand for testing has continued to grow and urged anybody that wants a test to act sooner rather than later.
“The amount of testing is growing exponentially and will continue to grow every day,” Driggers said. “Right now, the turnaround time for results is seven to 10 business days.”
To get a test at Sisters of Mercy, a patient must first go to the website http://www.mercyurgentcare.org and fill out forms regarding symptoms and insurance information. Once the patient has filled out the forms, a representative of Urgent Care contacts them to verify the information.
From there, the patient is contacted by a doctor who makes their final recommendations regarding testing back to Sisters of Mercy.
Driggers said the Brevard office has received constant calls from people inquiring about testing options.
“The entire town has been reaching out to us. We’re the only urgent care in the area right now, so this is where people are going to come,” she said.
Unfortunately, for some, financial constraints have kept them from getting tested.
For those without insurance, a COVID test costs $189. Hudspeth described the pricing and payment structure for testing as, “complicated, far more than it should be.”
Hudspeth said BRH hasn’t turned anybody away due to inability to pay for a test, but said if a person can’t pay, that places additional stress on BRH in terms of workload and capital.
“For uninsured patients there are ways for us to get reimbursed but they each have rules and regulations about how to apply for reimbursement, which patients are eligible, potential penalties for reimbursement from these sources if the patient is ineligible, to name a few complexities,” he said. “Furthermore, those reimbursements are not guaranteed. It should go without saying that these complexities add administrative costs to the actual test itself.”
Driggers said Sisters of Mercy has turned people away from testing because they couldn’t afford it.
“We don’t receive any kind of funding to provide tests,” she said.
Tara Rybka, public information officer for Transylvania Public Health, said her office has fielded many calls from people inquiring about testing options.
“We have been receiving quite a few questions about testing in general and about where people in Transylvania County can be tested,” she said.
Rybka said staff typically tells people their first step should be contacting their health care provider. Citizens can call the Transylvania Public Health nurse line at (828) 884-4007 for assistance in finding a COVID test.
The health department isn’t conducting tests, but Rybka said the department has collected a few samples that were sent to the state lab in Raleigh for processing.
Elaine Russell, Transylvania County health director, said, as a small department, her office doesn’t have the staffing or resources to offer larger, public testing.
“To meet the needs for testing, we have formed deep collaborations with Blue Ridge Health and the Henderson County Health Department to offer options that work best for different situations,” she said. “We have prioritized testing among our highest-risk population, such as our licensed care and elder care residents and staff; arranged for rapid testing as needed for law enforcement and EMS workers; and have done targeted outreach to the African American community. We have also responded to very specific worksite situations, where testing was needed, both directly and in collaboration with our community partners and private providers.”
Rybka said the health department partnered with BRH to conduct a drive-thru testing site at Bethel “A” Baptist Church on June 28 and have reached out to other organizations in the community to possibly hold another drive-thru event.
While finances can still stand in the way of some people getting tested, Rybka said that if Transylvania County conducted widespread testing in the event of an outbreak, people would not be charged for a test.
As the amount of testing increases, delays in results are expected.
Rybka said the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported that they are requesting federal assistance to expand access to testing and help labs process tests faster.
When it comes to announcing COVID cases, Rybka said if a person tests positive, that positive test goes toward the count in the county in which they reside, regardless of where the test was administered.
With every day that passes, health officials say they learn a little bit more about the coronavirus. However, there is still work to be done in order to combat the spread of the virus.
“As our case numbers increase over time, we begin to see changes in the speed of transmission and pattern of transmission,” Russell said. “We can see the influence of policy decisions related to social and business operations. When we look at the patterns of transmission, we can also identify high-risk activities and lower-risk activities. This helps us focus our prevention efforts and make recommendations to best protect the public’s health and slow the spread of illness.”