Are limited resources a factor in COVID-19 testing?

OKEECHOBEE — A local woman said she had to jump through a lot of hoops to get tested for COVID-19 even though she had already seen her doctor and had an order from the doctor requesting the test. Okeechobee has three testing sites, the health department, Raulerson Hospital and the drive-thru testing at the Fred Brown Clinic, yet Liz found it very difficult to get tested.

Liz, whose background is in health care administration, said she cannot speak highly enough about everyone she came into contact with at Raulerson Hospital and the Fred Brown Clinic. She said they were exceptional at following precautions and did everything they could to protect her and the staff. They followed all proper infectious disease precautions as far as she could tell and were very kind and caring.

Liz has an autoimmune disorder that makes her more susceptible to maladies such as COVID-19, she explained. She began experiencing symptoms about two weeks ago — fever, dry cough, etc. Her primary care physician, who is out of this county, saw her on a Friday and wanted her to get tested, because of her symptoms and her underlying condition.

The following Monday, she called the Okeechobee County Health Department, and said she explained about her autoimmune disorder, fever, cough, etc., and told them she had a doctor’s order for the test. They told her to contact the Fred Brown Clinic to be tested.

When she contacted the Fred Brown Clinic, she told them she had been seen by her physician and he ordered the test. She was told she could not be tested on another doctor’s order and had to make an appointment for a Telehealth visit with one of their doctors. The first available appointment was for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, she kept getting sicker and, on Tuesday, she ended up at the emergency room at Raulerson Hospital. She was tested for strep, Flu A and B and had other blood work done but was not tested for COVID-19. She was told they were only testing patients who are admitted, not emergency room patients. They said they would just assume she had the virus and instructed her to self-quarantine for 14 days.

On Wednesday, she had her Telehealth (new patient) visit with the Fred Brown Clinic and the doctor agreed because she is immuno-compromised, she should be tested, and someone would call to schedule an appointment for the test. That evening, she received a call telling her the appointment was for the following day.

On Thursday, she was tested and received her negative test result on Monday. So, she said, “it took one week, three doctor appointments and an ER visit. Someone who does not have insurance would probably not go through all of this. I am not looking forward to the bills.”

“Everyone was very nice and did what they needed to do, but I know most people, especially if they don’t have insurance, are not going to jump through the hoops that I went through to get tested,” she said. “I honestly don’t think anyone did anything wrong. I just think it highlights the fact that rural areas have less access to local, state, federal health care-type things than if we were in a place like Palm Beach. We don’t have the same size health department as Palm Beach does. We don’t have the resources. I think that is what it highlights. I think they did their best with the situation at hand. I just think rural health care needs to be looked at.”

Liz is unsure about the cost of the Telehealth visit but said she was asked for her insurance card and, so far, her insurance has been billed $155 for the lab and was able to negotiate it down to a little over $50.

The criteria for testing changes often, and hopefully what happened to Liz is no longer happening. Today, someone calling the health department with the same symptoms and history might easily be able to get an appointment and not be referred to the clinic. As more tests have become available, Florida has expanded the criteria, making it easier to quality for testing.

For more information, see the Okeechobee County Health Department website at co.okeechobee.fl.us/services/covid-19.

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