Testing centers stored samples in trash bags, gave false negative results, or sometimes no results at all
Olympics — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today filed a lawsuit against the Center for COVID Control, an Illinois-based company that operated multiple testing centers across Washington state, for providing Washington residents with invalid, incorrect, and delayed COVID-19 test results, or sometimes no results at all. The company’s unlawful practices included storing tests in garbage bags for over a week instead of properly refrigerating them and backdating sample collection dates so outdated samples could still be processed.
Employees reported that the company instructed them to “lie to patients on a daily basis” when Washingtonians complained about their delayed results.
Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges that the company violated consumer protection laws when it intentionally failed to provide timely, valid, and accurate results. In addition, the company also violated the Consumer Protection Act when it made misleading promises of being able to provide results within 48 hours. The Attorney General’s Office plans to file an injunction request soon to immediately stop the Center for COVID Control’s unlawful conduct. The office will apply for an injunction hearing at the earliest possible date.
“The Center for COVID Control contributed to the spread of COVID-19 when it gave false negatives,” Ferguson said. “These bogus testing centers threatened the health and safety of our communities. They must be held accountable.”
The Center for COVID Control operated about 300 testing sites nationwide. The company had at least 13 test locations in Washington located in Lakewood, Tacoma, University Place, Seattle, Bellevue, Auburn, Lynnwood, Everett, Port Orchard and Yakima. The company provided thousands of Washington residents with COVID-19 tests.
The company was not licensed to operate a business in any of the Washington communities, with the exception of Yakima, at the time it was conducting COVID-19 testing. These test sites halted all operations on or about January 13 and are still closed.
The company touted it could provide COVID-19 test results within 15 minutes for a rapid antigen test and 48 hours for a more accurate PCR test.
In reality, however, the company knew it couldn’t process tests at this speed. Former employees reported that the company received between 8,000 and 10,000 tests a day and data collection staff couldn’t keep up. The company’s owners turned down requests to hire more staff to keep up with demand for testing.
The Center for COVID Control has kept week-long tests in garbage bags
Staff began storing tests in garbage bags and piling them in different corners of the office with no apparent organization. Some former employees reported regularly finding tests in garbage bags that were over a week old, never properly refrigerated, and never tested by the company’s lab.
Test samples can only be kept for so long – a company lab manager reported that a sample is invalid after three days. The company’s operations manager instructed employees to incorrectly post-date samples to make them appear younger than they actually were and still submit them for testing so the company could still potentially bill insurance companies or the federal government for the tests.
As a result, Washingtonians received false negative results, invalid results, or no results at all. A Yakima customer who never received his test result from the Center for COVID Control reported that two of his family members received negative test results despite showing severe symptoms of COVID-19 the day after the test.
As the company continued to fall behind in processing samples, it was inundated with calls about late or nonexistent results. Call wait times were sometimes as long as three hours. The Center for COVID Control instructed staff to tell patients to expect results within 24 hours, even though there was no information on where the sample was or if it would ever be tested. If a patient called multiple times asking for their results, staff were instructed to lie and tell them their results were inconclusive and they needed to take another test, allowing the company to charge for two tests.
The Center for COVID Control has reportedly charged the federal government $124 million for testing “uninsured” patients. The company often marked patients as “uninsured” even though they were insured. Staff were instructed to mark patients as “uninsured” if the patient did not provide insurance information by the time of the test, or if their insurance company was not listed on the company’s data entry form. As testing ramped up, the company “streamlined” its data entry form and automatically filled out “uninsured” as the default insurance for all patients.
“My team was instructed to lie to patients on a daily basis”
Several Washington patients and former employees filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office about the Center for COVID Control.
An Illinois-based employee responsible for a data entry team reports, “I’ve been at for most of my short tenure [Center for COVID Control], but as garbage bags of tests piled up and my team was instructed to lie to patients on a daily basis, I’d had enough. I first applied for a demotion from my position as shift supervisor and shortly thereafter I resigned.”
A Washington resident visited the Everett site of the Center for COVID Control for a rapid test. At that point, she was exposed to COVID-19 and had symptoms. She was told her result would be in two hours. After five hours had passed, a testing staff member informed her that the sample had been lost and that she needed to take a second one.
“Two hours after my second COVID-19 test, I still had not received a result from the Center for COVID Control. An employee told me that they couldn’t find my sample again. However, a minute after I was told that my second test was lost, I received an email from the testing site telling me my COVID-19 test was negative.”
Because of the negative result, she suspected another appointment at a Department of Health testing center in Washington and received a positive result.
details of the lawsuit
Ferguson’s lawsuit prompts the court to order the Center for COVID Control:
- Stop all of his unlawful behavior, including his misrepresentations to consumers and false test results
- Pay civil penalties of up to $12,500 per consumer law violation, including $5,000 in increased penalties for targeting vulnerable populations
- Forfeit any profits made by the Company from its unlawful conduct, in addition to attorneys’ fees and fees
Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Davies and Will O’Connor are leading the case.
Washington’s attorney general serves the people and the state of Washington. As the largest law firm in the state, the Attorney General’s Office legally represents all state agencies, boards and commissions in Washington. In addition, the office serves people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights and environmental protection laws. The bureau also prosecutes cases of elder abuse, Medicaid fraud and cases of sexually violent predators in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, communications director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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