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Nursing home visitors find Covid test mandate to be pricey, difficult

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 23 September 2020 at 11:02 am

‘This is the governor’s fault. It’s creating such a terrible thing for people, who just want to see their loved ones, and it’s breaking my heart.’

Friends and relatives who have waited nearly six months to see their loved ones in nursing homes now find themselves faced with another obstacle.

Initally, it looked like Gov. Andrew Cuomo was easing some restrictions, saying visitation would be allowed at nursing homes that went 14 days of being Covid free, down from the requirement of 28 days.

But the governor added a new mandate, requiring visitors to receive a Covid test within seven days of visiting a nursing home.

People attempting to get that test are finding the process is a nightmare.

A Medina senior was told to contact his primary care physician to get an order and then go to Orleans Community Health’s Albion Walk-In Healthcare Center, where the test results sometimes take a week or more. That is past the seven-day limit required by the governor’s new mandate.

When this senior’s doctor said they weren’t issuing orders for Covid tests, the doctor’s office said to go to Batavia, where WellNow Urgent Care on Veteran’s Memorial Drive was accepting walk-ins. The senior got to Batavia, had the test and was charged $275.

“A lot of people are struggling with how to move on and see their loved ones,” said Nola Goodrich Kresse, public health and public education officer at Orleans/Genesee Health Department. “We have asked the state to provide free testing in Orleans and Genesee counties, but it’s not happening.”

A Medina senior, who got her Covid test in Albion last Wednesday, got her results on Tuesday. However, when she went to make her appointment for the next test she was told the price had gone from $50 to $100.

Nicole Helsdon, manager of Albion’s Walk-In Healthcare Center, clarified that by saying they initially only charged the co-pay and planned to submit the rest of the cost to the patient’s insurance company, hoping it would pay the difference. If the insurance company denies the claim, the patient will be responsible for the additional cost.

Orleans Community Health is doing these tests at cost and are not making money on the tests, added Jessica Capurso, director of outreach, education and marketing at Orleans Community Health.

Helsdon said it is important to note that this pricing is only for those seeking testing for screening purposes only. There is no cost for those presenting with symptoms, such as children sent home from school or adults sent home from work. The fee charged by the urgent care center is only what the lab charges them.

“Insurance companies are constantly telling us they won’t cover screening for people who aren’t sick,” Helsdon said. “We are having a meeting this week to discuss insurance companies. This is the governor’s fault. It’s creating such a terrible thing for people, who just want to see their loved ones, and it’s breaking my heart.”

Helsdon also wanted to clarify rumors about the length of time it takes to get test results. She said 98 percent of tests come back within 48 to 72 hours. Once in a while there is a hang-up at the lab, she said.

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley is irate about the mandate.

“It’s price gouging and it’s mandated by the governor,” he said. “Testing ought to be free and available.”

He and other lawmakers have urged the governor when making these decisions to consider the different regionalized criteria, based on current statistics.

“That’s the criteria he used for reopening the economy and it was our idea,” Hawley said. “He ought to be looking at the different criteria for nursing home visits across the state, based on Covid-positive tests in each area.”

Hawley explained the state average of positive tests as of Friday was .98 percent. Orleans County reported .5 percent, far below the state average. It had gone up to .8 on Sunday, but that is still below the state average.

“I appreciate and acknowledge that nursing homes have been a big issue during the pandemic,” Hawley said. “But this new mandate is unworkable, expensive and unnecessary.”

Right now, the nearest free Covid testing is available at Niagara County Community College on Route 31 in Sanborn. It is drive-through, but appointments are required. They can be made by calling 1-888-364-3065.

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