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Santa Clara County cracks down on hospitals falling behind on COVID-19 testing

Local hospitals including Stanford must provide easy and timely access to COVID-19 tests under a new county health order. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Santa Clara County announced Wednesday a new public health order forcing local health care providers -- including Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health -- to provide quick and easy access to COVID-19 testing, following widespread complaints that residents have been wrongly denied tests.

The order, which goes into effect Sept. 25, comes after months of pressure by county officials to get private hospitals to ramp up testing, giving teeth to requirements that have been largely ignored since June.

Essential workers and those who come in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are entitled to a test by any health care provider that has an acute care hospital in Santa Clara County, regardless of whether they show any symptoms. But county officials say those requirements have not been met, and people are routinely being denied a test or are forced to navigate a labyrinthine process to get tested.

Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody said testing must ramp up in order to get a handle on the virus, particularly as schools begin to reopen. About 40% of people with COVID-19 may not show any symptoms at all, she said, making it more important for tests to be easily accessible and widely available.

"if you don't know you have COVID, you can't take measures to protect people in your household or your workplace or anywhere else," Cody said during a virtual press conference announcing the order.

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Kaiser Permanente, Stanford, Sutter Health and El Camino Hospital are all included in the public health order. Recent data suggests that all four have not provided enough tests to meet the county's requirements, leaving it up to the county's health care system to pick up the slack.

In the week of Aug. 31 through Sept. 6, Santa Clara County provided 13,072 COVID-19 tests, followed by Kaiser at 4,261 and Stanford at 3,243.

Cody was joined Wednesday by a coalition of 10 mayors across Santa Clara County, including Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine. During the Zoom call, Fine said his city is blessed with world-class hospitals that have stepped up to test essential workers, but that more needs to be done to increase capacity. Every time the city hosts a COVID-19 testing site with the county, he said, there is a line around the block.

"I've heard far too many stories that tests are hard to find, hard to get and take too long to get useful results," Fine said.

Under the new order, large health care providers are required to provide immediate testing to any county resident who shows up in person with symptoms of COVID-19, has been exposed to a confirmed case or has been referred for testing by the county's public health department. If residents ask for a test online or by phone, they must be provided a test no later than the following day.

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Hospitals are given more flexibility for essential workers, and are obligated to provide a test within three business days. In all cases, test results must be given within three days of the test.

Essential workers eligible for tests include teachers, school staff, grocery store clerks, first responders and health care workers.

The testing order also prohibits any practice that would discourage or delay access to COVID-19 tests, said County Counsel James Williams, which is a direct response to widespread reports that hospitals have made it difficult for residents to get tested. Under the new testing order, hospitals must provide information on testing availability -- consistent with the new county health order -- on websites, in waiting rooms and in promotional materials related to COVID-19.

"Too many people still don't know they can, and have the right, to get tested through their health care providers," Williams said.

Bay Area hospital officials have criticized the county's testing order for being unrealistic, and said that supply chain shortages out of their control have made it difficult to expand testing capacity beyond the patients who need it most. But County Supervisor Joe Simitian said organizations like Kaiser and Sutter have the resources to ramp up testing and finally come into compliance with testing requirements that have technically been in effect since June 10.

"There really is no excuse for large health care systems not to have stepped up and done their fair share and comply with the public health order," Simitian said.

Another incentive for boosting COVID-19 testing is the prospect of more businesses and schools reopening in Santa Clara County. Under the state's new tiered framework, counties that can achieve higher levels of testing are able to open more sectors of the economy -- including indoor dining and other services that have been prohibited since March. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said reopening depends on the county's ability to test, and that it's time for private health care providers to step up.

"The only way we're really going to beat this virus is by having all of our health care providers pushing with us," Liccardo said.

Anyone who believes hospitals are violating the public health order can file a complaint with the county at scccovidconcerns.org. Under a county law passed last month, businesses that violate public health orders can be fined for up to $5,000.

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Santa Clara County cracks down on hospitals falling behind on COVID-19 testing

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 16, 2020, 1:45 pm

Santa Clara County announced Wednesday a new public health order forcing local health care providers -- including Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health -- to provide quick and easy access to COVID-19 testing, following widespread complaints that residents have been wrongly denied tests.

The order, which goes into effect Sept. 25, comes after months of pressure by county officials to get private hospitals to ramp up testing, giving teeth to requirements that have been largely ignored since June.

Essential workers and those who come in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are entitled to a test by any health care provider that has an acute care hospital in Santa Clara County, regardless of whether they show any symptoms. But county officials say those requirements have not been met, and people are routinely being denied a test or are forced to navigate a labyrinthine process to get tested.

Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody said testing must ramp up in order to get a handle on the virus, particularly as schools begin to reopen. About 40% of people with COVID-19 may not show any symptoms at all, she said, making it more important for tests to be easily accessible and widely available.

"if you don't know you have COVID, you can't take measures to protect people in your household or your workplace or anywhere else," Cody said during a virtual press conference announcing the order.

Kaiser Permanente, Stanford, Sutter Health and El Camino Hospital are all included in the public health order. Recent data suggests that all four have not provided enough tests to meet the county's requirements, leaving it up to the county's health care system to pick up the slack.

In the week of Aug. 31 through Sept. 6, Santa Clara County provided 13,072 COVID-19 tests, followed by Kaiser at 4,261 and Stanford at 3,243.

Cody was joined Wednesday by a coalition of 10 mayors across Santa Clara County, including Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine. During the Zoom call, Fine said his city is blessed with world-class hospitals that have stepped up to test essential workers, but that more needs to be done to increase capacity. Every time the city hosts a COVID-19 testing site with the county, he said, there is a line around the block.

"I've heard far too many stories that tests are hard to find, hard to get and take too long to get useful results," Fine said.

Under the new order, large health care providers are required to provide immediate testing to any county resident who shows up in person with symptoms of COVID-19, has been exposed to a confirmed case or has been referred for testing by the county's public health department. If residents ask for a test online or by phone, they must be provided a test no later than the following day.

Hospitals are given more flexibility for essential workers, and are obligated to provide a test within three business days. In all cases, test results must be given within three days of the test.

Essential workers eligible for tests include teachers, school staff, grocery store clerks, first responders and health care workers.

The testing order also prohibits any practice that would discourage or delay access to COVID-19 tests, said County Counsel James Williams, which is a direct response to widespread reports that hospitals have made it difficult for residents to get tested. Under the new testing order, hospitals must provide information on testing availability -- consistent with the new county health order -- on websites, in waiting rooms and in promotional materials related to COVID-19.

"Too many people still don't know they can, and have the right, to get tested through their health care providers," Williams said.

Bay Area hospital officials have criticized the county's testing order for being unrealistic, and said that supply chain shortages out of their control have made it difficult to expand testing capacity beyond the patients who need it most. But County Supervisor Joe Simitian said organizations like Kaiser and Sutter have the resources to ramp up testing and finally come into compliance with testing requirements that have technically been in effect since June 10.

"There really is no excuse for large health care systems not to have stepped up and done their fair share and comply with the public health order," Simitian said.

Another incentive for boosting COVID-19 testing is the prospect of more businesses and schools reopening in Santa Clara County. Under the state's new tiered framework, counties that can achieve higher levels of testing are able to open more sectors of the economy -- including indoor dining and other services that have been prohibited since March. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said reopening depends on the county's ability to test, and that it's time for private health care providers to step up.

"The only way we're really going to beat this virus is by having all of our health care providers pushing with us," Liccardo said.

Anyone who believes hospitals are violating the public health order can file a complaint with the county at scccovidconcerns.org. Under a county law passed last month, businesses that violate public health orders can be fined for up to $5,000.

Comments

Agree
Registered user
another community
on Sep 17, 2020 at 8:29 am
Agree, another community
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 8:29 am
6 people like this

Thankful this is happening. I was denied a test by Sutter even though I had symptoms (fatigue, sore throat, cough). They told me over the phone that they wouldn't test me unless I had vomiting or diarrhea which are not even common symptoms of Covid. I had to go find a test from elsewhere. Very frustrating


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 19, 2020 at 10:54 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 19, 2020 at 10:54 am
Like this comment

Technically required since mid June? Wow! Good reporting Kevin, many of us didn't know. Our County Supervisor Simitian is FinallyGettingIT! When the low income area around the center of our city had a ONE DAY testing opening, this area ("essential workers" & low income) had many turned away, according to Voice reporting, many of our MV residents need "walk-up" testing access.

$5,000 fine per incident? Good. Sutter, El Camino and Kaiser need to get on the ball. [Science; I wish the county had explicitly called out the 'criteria' and had a checklist. Put in 'extra questions? Get a $5,000 fine per test requester!]


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