A day before it was supposed to start offering testing for coronavirus at all of its clinics, including one on the island, Seattle-based nonprofit Neighborcare Health announced it would not offer any until further notice.
That information came from Neighborcare’s spokeswoman, Mary Schilder, who said the nonprofit had to make that decision “while we work out some operational needs.”
Pressed for more detail by The Beachcomber, Schilder wrote in an email that the decision to postpone testing came after reconsideration from Neighborcare’s chief medical officer.
“We didn’t anticipate the challenges that testing presented within the flow of regular primary care when we tried it last week,” Schilder said. “Therefore, we are delaying testing while we determine a better process that ensures the safety of staff and patients. As information changes daily, we are adapting and making decisions as quickly as we can so we can provide the care our patients need.”
In addition, Neighborcare is considering providing testing for COVID-19 in a tent outside the clinic while patients wait in their cars, she said, but no decision has been made yet.
On top of that, until further notice, Neighborcare is only providing urgent and emergency dental service.
“Appointments for routine or preventive care will be canceled and rescheduled at a later date,” Schilder wrote. “This is part of the effort to help prevent the potential spread of the virus through social distancing.”
For medical appointments, Neighborcare says most of its clinics, including Vashon’s are still providing them, with the caviate that “staff will screen all patients and visitors for respiratory symptoms at the door” and that any patient with symptoms “will be given information about scheduling a phone appointment with a medical provider.”
But first and foremost, Neighborcare is asking that patients with any respiratory symptoms meet with their provider via phone rather than in-person.
Visitors are advised to “to wait in their car, outside away from the clinic entrance or at home for their family member or friend.”
On Monday, a sign was seen on the front door of Neighborcare’s island clinic saying it would open at 9 a.m. that day instead of 8 a.m.
Schilder said this was done to give clinicians a chance to switch patients who had possible symptoms of or potential exposure to COVID-19 notification that their appointments would switch to a phone call rather than an in-person visit.
The delayed opening also provided time to allow the clinic to “set up stations at the front doors or front desks to screen any patients and visitors for symptoms of coronavirus.”
“If patients are experiencing symptoms, teams are giving them information on how to call for a phone appointment with a medical provider,” Schilder wrote.
Meanwhile, another island primary care provider, Vashon Natural Medicine, shed some light on its coronavirus testing situation on Facebook.
Office Manager Pamela Courtney said the practice is currently only scheduling telemedicine appointments if anyone is experiencing flu-like symptoms. If patients are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, “then arrangements can be made for testing.”
In an email to The Beachcomber, VNM practitioner Kelly Wright said “We are doing our best to refer patients to Multicare, CHI Franciscan or Kaiser for coronavirus testing.”
On Tuesdsay, the Emergency Alert Service corrected itself, stating that VNM is not offering coronavirus testing, but it did not mention Neighborcare — even though the initial email did. Schilder said the organization has kits, but is not testing.
MultiCare, which has several locations in Tacoma, urges patients to “call first before a clinic or urgent care visit to determine if you need to visit a specific site for testing,” according to its website.
CHI Franciscan says people who “have a fever and cough and are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection” should visit one of several triage sites, according to the organization’s website.
Courtney emphasized that VNM is not a “drive-in, walk-in, anyone-can-get-a-test-done facility.
“PLEASE call your provider if you have symptoms and request a telemed appointment,” she wrote.
Courtney urged patients not to come into the office to make an appointment “to limit everyone’s exposure.”
Lisa Morse, who leads another island provider, Fern Cove Natural Medicine, said in an email she doesn’t offer coronavirus testing at her office.
“As a health care practitioner, they have instructed me that younger patients (under 60) and healthy individuals with mild illness should not be tested,” she wrote.
Neighborcare’s pull back on its offering of coronavirus tests comes at a time of uncertainty. Some medical experts have said there aren’t enough resources or opportunities for coronavirus tests, sparking questions and concerns from people who say they cannot get tested when they ask for it.
Recently, Public Health – Seattle & King County stated in a news release that “although the laboratory test is becoming more broadly available, there are limitations in the health care industry’s capacity to obtain samples from people as rapidly as we would like.”
The agency did say that there are no restrictions in the state for anyone to get a coronavirus test, but pointed to the state department of health, which offers the guidance to health care providers that testing should focus on those who are at a higher risk for getting the virus and have COVID-19 symptoms. The test involves a nasal swab that is sent to a commercial lab. It takes less than a week to get results back.
Washington is one of a number of states that have implemented drive-thru testing.
Rick Wallace, vice president of VashonBePrepared, said his organization has spoke with VNM and Neighborcare about getting this comlplex service. Two doctors who are part of VBP are creating a proposal for it.
“We’re not committed to doing this unless all the pieces fall into place,” he said. “Vashon Medical Reserve Corps. is trying to vet what would be done and there’s also an issue that it has to be done under proper authorization. We don’t know what that looks like.”
CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that Mary Schilder’s comments “Appointments for routine or preventive care will be canceled and rescheduled at a later date,” were referring to dental care, not medical. More information on Neighborcare’s current policies for medical appointments have been added to the online version of the story.