Testing centers stored samples in trash bags, provided false negative results or sometimes no results at all
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today filed a lawsuit against Center for COVID Control, an Illinois-based company that ran several testing centers in Washington state, for providing invalid, false and delayed COVID-19 test results to Washingtonians, or sometimes providing no results at all. The company’s unlawful practices included storing tests in garbage bags for over a week rather than properly refrigerating them, and backdating sample collection dates so that stale samples would 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, asserts the company violated the Consumer Protection Act when it deliberately failed to deliver prompt, valid and accurate results. Moreover, the company also violated the Consumer Protection Act when it made deceptive promises that it could deliver results within 48 hours. The Attorney General’s Office plans to file a motion for preliminary injunction soon to immediately stop the Center for COVID Control’s unlawful conduct. The office will request a preliminary injunction hearing for the soonest available date.
“Center for COVID Control contributed to the spread of COVID-19 when it provided false negative results,” Ferguson said. “These sham testing centers threatened the health and safety of our communities. They must be held accountable.”
Center for COVID Control operated about 300 testing sites nationwide. The company had at least 13 testing sites in Washington, located in Lakewood, Tacoma, University Place, Seattle, Bellevue, Auburn, Lynnwood, Everett, Port Orchard and Yakima. The company provided COVID-19 tests to thousands of Washingtonians.
The company did not have a license to operate a business in any municipalities in Washington, except for Yakima, at the time they conducted COVID-19 tests. These testing sites paused all operations on or about Jan. 13, and are still closed.
The company advertised that they could provide COVID-19 test results within 15 minutes for a rapid antigen test, and within 48 hours for a more accurate PCR test.
However, in reality, the company was aware it could not actually process tests at this speed. Former employees reported that the company was receiving between 8,000 to 10,000 tests per day, and data entry staff could not keep up. The company’s owners refused requests to hire more staff to keep up with the demand for testing.
Center for COVID Control stored week-old tests in garbage bags
Employees began storing tests in garbage bags and piling them up in various corners of the office with no semblance of organization. Some former employees reported regularly finding tests sitting in trash bags that were over a week old, never refrigerated properly and never tested by the company’s lab.
Testing samples can only keep for so long — a lab manager for the company reported that beyond three days, a sample is invalid. The company’s Director of Operations instructed employees to start falsely post-dating samples to make them appear more recent than they actually were, and submit them for testing anyway so the company could potentially still 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. One Yakima customer, who never received his test result from Center for COVID Control, reported that two of his family members received negative test results despite exhibiting severe symptoms of COVID-19 the day after being tested.
As the company fell further behind on processing samples, they were flooded with calls about late or non-existent results. Call wait times were sometimes three hours long. Center for COVID Control instructed employees to tell patients to expect results in 24 hours, even if 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, employees were instructed to lie and tell them that their results were inconclusive and they needed to take another test, allowing the company to bill for two tests.
Center for COVID Control has reportedly billed the federal government $124 million for tests for “uninsured” patients. The company frequently marked patients as “uninsured,” even if they were insured. Employees were instructed to mark patients as “uninsured” if the patient didn’t provide their insurance information by the time of testing or if their insurance company wasn’t listed on the company’s data entry form. As testing ramped up, the company “streamlined” their data entry form and autofilled “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 submitted complaints to the Attorney General’s Office about Center for COVID Control.
An Illinois-based employee, who was in charge of a data entry team, reports, “I had been uneasy for nearly all of my short tenure at [Center for COVID Control], but as trash bags of tests piled up and my team was instructed to lie to patients on a daily basis, I had had enough. I first requested a demotion from my shift lead position, and, shortly after that, I quit.”
One Washingtonian visited Center for COVID Control’s Everett site for a rapid test. At the time, she had been exposed to COVID-19 and was experiencing symptoms. She was told her result would be available in two hours. After five hours passed, a testing employee told her the sample was lost and she had to take a second one.
“Two hours after taking my second COVID-19 test, I still had not received a result from the Center for COVID Control. An employee told me that they could not find my sample again. However, one minute after being told my second test was lost, I received an email from the testing site telling me my COVID-19 test was negative.”
Suspicious of the negative result, she booked another appointment at a Washington Department of Health testing site, and received a positive result.
Details of the lawsuit
Ferguson’s lawsuit asks the court to order Center for COVID Control to:
- Stop all its unlawful conduct, including its misrepresentations to consumers and false test results
- Pay civil penalties of up to $12,500 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act, which includes $5,000 in enhanced penalties for targeting vulnerable populations
- Relinquish any profits the company made from its unlawful conduct, in addition to any attorneys’ costs 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 state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases 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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