State will not pay for a second Optum Serve testing site

Jun 25, 2020

June 25, 2020 — The county’s confirmed cases of covid-19 were up to 74 by Wednesday afternoon, with all but ten of the positive test results in the Ukiah Valley. Surveillance testing at clinics in Fort Bragg and Laytonville took place earlier this week, and the Anderson Valley Health Center will test 100 vineyard workers today. People with symptoms can still get tested at the clinic in Boonville, and if you have more questions about testing, you can email covid@avhc.org. The contract with the lab at UCSF to process 100 tests a day from Mendocino County expires at the end of this month.

CEO Carmel Angelo and Bekkie Emery, the department operations manager with the county’s Health and Human Services Agency’s response to covid-19, gave the update this week to the Board of Supervisors. Emery said that Optum Serve, the testing site in Carl Purdy Hall at the Redwood Empire fairgrounds in Ukiah, now has the capacity to perform 144 tests a day, with 12 of them being walk-ins. 

With more sectors of the economy opening up, especially lodging and recreational opportunities that attract tourists, coastal supervisors had questions about more testing outside of Ukiah. Some federal money may soon be available to tribal healthcare systems to fund more testing for tribal as well as non-tribal people, but there aren’t a lot of details yet. 

Supervisor Ted Williams pushed for a second Optum Serve testing site, saying that with travel time, it doesn’t make sense for someone working on the coast to get tested in Ukiah, even if it is free. And with the budget on everyone’s mind, the cost of things is a foremost concern. Williams estimated that the cost of two sites, with lab fees, could come out to as much as $100,000 a month.

The county’s arrangement with the state paying for the current Optum Serve site is set to end in August, but Angelo is hoping for an extension into the fall. If that doesn’t pan out, “I don’t know if it will come out of disaster recovery or which line item...and which department that money will come out of,” she said. “But as far as having a second lane of Optum right now, I have staff that are working on that with Optum. We’ve already gotten the word from the state that they will not pay for a second lane here in Mendocino County.”

Emery said that between them, the county and its MHOAC (Medical Health Operational Area Coordinator) have contacted the testing task force at the state and the California Department of Public Health. “We have asked even to be considered if they decide to reassign any of those lanes,” she said; but it is clear that the state will not pay for a second testing site in Mendocino County.

She added that the county’s public health department went to Covelo six times as a result of the outbreak there, and performed 518 tests; and assured the board that any part of the county that experiences an outbreak could expect a similar response.

So far, according to Deputy CEO Darcie Antle, the cost of the covid-19 response has cost the county well over $5 million, with approximately $2 million lost in tax revenue. FEMA has promised to reimburse over $1 million. Hours worked on the response increase by roughly 2,000 per week, for a total of 50,176.

“One thing we haven’t worried about during this covid response is money, unfortunately,” Angelo told the board. And as far as getting a second testing site, “Optum is a large company...I’m certain if we’re willing to pay, that they will do it.”