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State Contracts With Area Health Care Workers For Test Iowa Sites

kim reynolds
John Pemble/IPR file
The state of Iowa is contracting with local health providers to administer coronavirus tests for its Test Iowa program. It's not clear how much staffing will cost, beyond the $26m already allocated for the effort.

The $26 million that Iowans are paying for the Test Iowa program administered by Nomi Health does not include the cost of staffing the coronavirus testing sites. The state has separate contracts with local hospitals to administer the coronavirus tests, a spokesman for Gov. Kim Reynolds confirmed to IPR.“Iowa has contracted with health providers like UnityPoint and Mercy to staff our Test Iowa sites,” spokesman Pat Garrett said in an email. “The state’s contract with Nomi Health covers 540,000 tests, and PPE for health care providers doing the testing.”

A public health official in Black Hawk County, where a testing site launched Wednesday, said that the state had initially planned to provide its own personnel but that a contract “fell through."

“One of the things [the state] had originally communicated with us that didn’t work as planned was that they were going to bring their own personnel. And that contract fell through. And so they’ve reached out to some of our local health care systems to see if they can also provide personnel,” said Black Hawk County Public Health Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye at a county Board of Health meeting on Wednesday.

Garrett said in an email that this statement was “inaccurate” and that the state had always intended to contract with area health providers to staff the testing sites.

Providers from UnityPoint Health and MercyOne have been staffing the Test Iowa locations, with support from local law enforcement and the Iowa National Guard.

Amy Hetherton, Director of Marketing and Communications at MercyOne Northeast Iowa, said the organization is proud to help support the effort to offer expanded testing for the new coronavirus.

“Our team members will partner with health care professionals from other systems to staff Test Iowa sites to help expand access to this important work. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Governor’s office to advance COVID-19 testing to make evidence-based decisions to continue managing COVID-19,” Hetherton said in an email.

Marketing Communications Manager of UnityPoint Health-Waterloo Carson Tigges confirmed to IPR that the hospital’s eight staffers working at the Test Iowa site in Waterloo would receive their regular pay and benefits, and that the state would reimburse the organization.

It’s not clear how much more the staffing will cost the state, in addition to the $26 million already allocated for the year-long program.

Reynolds has touted the Test Iowa initiative as a boon for the state. But she’s offered limited details about the administration of the program, which is still well short of meeting the stated goal of 3,000 tests per day.

As of Wednesday, 229,000 Iowans have completed an online assessment needed to qualify for a test, nearly 2,300 have scheduled a testing appointment and 874 have been tested.
So far, temporary drive-in testing sites have been established in Des Moines and Waterloo. Reynolds said Wednesday that Woodbury and Scott Counties are also slated to get sites next week.

Reynolds’ administration entered a no-bid contract with a Utah-based company to launch the effort, after it was recommended to her by Iowa native and actor Ashton Kutcher.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter