North Side Christian Health Center has set up a testing site for the coronavirus in the parking lot of its Deutschtown location. It's one of seven federally qualified health centers in Allegheny County that will now provide the service.
The clinics offer medical care regardless of a patient’s insurance status or ability to pay. Since the beginning of the pandemic, community health clinic providers have struggled to access testing for their patients because they are not connected to major health systems.
“[The testing,] it’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Dr. Matthew Yu, North Side Christian’s medical director.
Community health centers are more likely to serve marginalized populations, so these patients have likely been underrepresented in county testing data.
At North Side Christian, the center was able to provide just five tests a day. Now it will be 60.
“When I think about some of the positive cases we have, a lot of them are essential workers that might not have the common insurance that might not have available testing like [Allegheny Health Network] or UPMC,” said Yu. “This is, to me, an opportunity where [my patients] can be represented in some of the data that’s guiding the decision makers.”
Yu said that not only symptomatic people can be tested, put also individuals who may have been exposed to the virus but aren't currently experiencing illness.
The initiative is partly funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, through a $350,000 grant to the Allegheny County Health Department. In total, 5,000 saliva testing kits will be purchased from Curative, a California-based medical device company to whom testing samples will be shipped overnight for analysis. The estimated average wait for results is three days.
“Expanded testing is critical to controlling the spread of COVID-19, and that means anyone who needs a test must be able to get one,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, who has been vocal about her desire for federally funded health clinics to perform testing.
In addition to North Side Christian, the other health centers providing the testing are the Squirrel Hill Health Center, Pittsburgh Mercy, East Liberty Family Health Center, Sto-Rox Family Health Center, Metro Community Health Center, and Primary Care Health Services, which has nine sites.