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U. of C. gets $500K to bolster South Side coronavirus testing, while Humboldt Park opens site

The financial support will enable U. of C. and its partners to expand testing to 1,000 people a day.

COVID-19 testing area at University of Chicago Hospital in March. Sun-Times file

University of Chicago Medicine received a $500,000 donation that will help bolster coronavirus testing efforts at clinics and community hospitals in South Side communities that have been hit hard by the disease.

The financial support will enable U. of C. and its partners to expand testing to 1,000 people a day, according to a statement Tuesday. Uninsured patients will be tested for free, while those with health insurance will simply have their provider billed and won’t be subjected to co-pays.

The grant funding comes from the nonprofit United Health Foundation, which was established by the UnitedHealth Group, a publicly traded health care firm based in Minneapolis. The donation is part of the company’s initial $70 million commitment to fight COVID-19 and support areas that have been disproportionately affected by the virus.

“We are grateful to the United Health Foundation for its support of our efforts to provide much needed care to communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 emergency,” said Brenda Battle, vice president of UChicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative and chief diversity and inclusion officer.

“The financial support will allow South Side health care providers to ramp up staff and supplies needed to make testing more widely available to those most at risk in the community, which is critical to our efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19.”

Five zip codes included in U. of C.’s coverage area have some of the highest rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Chicago, with African Americans bearing the brunt of the infections. As of Monday, blacks accounted for 60% of the 2,576 confirmed cases in those zip codes.

Earlier this month, U. of C. officials announced a partnership to ramp up screening for the deadly virus. In addition to testing at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, U. of C. is also partnering with community hospitals, nursing facilities and federally qualified health centers.

U. of C.’s “testing partners” include La Rabida Children’s Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital, St. Bernard Hospital, Palos Heights Hospital, Family Christian Health Center, Montgomery Place, Symphony South Shore and Villa at Windsor Park. Some are conducting coronavirus testing, while others are simply referring patients to U. of C. for testing.

The grant money will support that initiative and also be used to train staff members to test and treat patients, conduct contact tracing, pay for personal protective equipment and other supplies and provide temporary housing for those who test positive.

New testing site in Humboldt Park

The announcement comes five days after the state reached the elusive goal of conducting 10,000 daily tests. Since Friday, the state’s daily testing numbers haven’t dipped below 11,985.

As the state’s testing capacity has increased, attention has shifted to running more tests in underserved communities in Chicago. Starting Tuesday, all adult residents of Humboldt Park symptoms and an appointment can now get tested in the parking lot of Norwegian American Hospital, 1044 N. Francisco Ave.

“We now have a hospital on the Northwest Side of Chicago that will service our Latino and immigrant community,” said Cesar Rolon of the Illinois Latino COVID-19 Initiative, a group of Latino officials, health professionals and representatives of community-based organizations.