Suburban Chicago COVID testing company sued by Minnesota officials

Center for COVID Control, incorporated in 2020, has been a target of scrutiny in multiple states.

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Center for COVID Control and its affiliated lab, Doctors Clinical Lab Corp., are accused of failing to deliver test results or faking results in a lawsuit filed by the Minnesota attorney general. 

Center for COVID Control and its affiliated lab, Doctors Clinical Lab Corp., are accused of failing to deliver test results or faking results in a lawsuit filed by the Minnesota attorney general.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A week after it suspended operations amid scrutiny from authorities in multiple states, a suburban Chicago company that purports to run hundreds of COVID-19 testing sites has been sued by Minnesota’s attorney general.

Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Lab Corp. collected and processed test samples from locations in Minnesota and “either failed to deliver test results or delivered test results that were falsified or inaccurate,” according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state court in Minnesota by Attorney General Keith Ellison.

“Issuing false results, not issuing results at all, undermines the public’s trust in this crucial tool of testing. We cannot have that,” Ellison said Wednesday during an online news conference. “These companies, taking advantage of Minnesotans for profit, during this vulnerable time for families, is unconscionable.”

State records show the Center for COVID Control was incorporated in December 2020, and the company’s website claims to operate some 300 testing sites and employs 3,000 people. The lawsuit lists eight testing sites in Minnesota, all but two of them in Minneapolis. State records show the company is based in St. Charles and has an address in Rolling Meadows that is shared by Doctors Clinical Laboratory Corp.

A news release on the company website dated Thursday said the company would “pause” operations through Jan. 22, time the company said would be used to provide more training for staff.

The statement acknowledges “certain locations” were overwhelmed by the demand for testing, noting the company went from processing 8,000 tests per day to more than 80,000. “This unusually high patient demand has stressed staffing resources, as has been widely reported, in a subset of our locations, affecting our usual customer service standards and diagnostic goals.”

Calls to both the phone number listed for Doctors Clinical Laboratory Corp and Center for COVID Control were answered by operators for the Center for COVID Control, who directed reporters to email the Center for COVID Control with questions.

The attorney general received numerous complaints from Minnesotans who submitted COVID-19 tests at pop-up sites around the state operated by Center for Covid Control. People reported never receiving their test results from the company’s associated lab, Doctors Clinical Laboratory, despite waiting for weeks or more, or who received test results far later than the 24 to 72 hours the companies advertised.

Some people reported receiving test results from the companies despite having never submitting a sample for testing. Still others reported receiving test results with false or inaccurate information. 

At a virtual news conference announcing the lawsuit, Minnesota resident Edward Huegner said he and his daughter went to a Center for COVID Control testing location last week and witnessed a “chaotic” scene and left before giving samples, but they still received test results from the company. Huegner called the attorney general to report his concerns.

“I know what shady looks like, and this was it,” Huegner said

Former employees reported the testing lab was inundated with more samples than it could handle, prompting managers to store samples in trash bags strewn around the office in such disorder it was impossible to tell when the tests had been received, according to a news release from Ellison’s office.

The lawsuit states the companies were reimbursed for the tests by private insurance companies and the federal government, noting that at the direction of CEO Aleya Siyaj, staff at Center for COVID Control sites would “streamline” the process of inputting customers’ data by entering all patients as “uninsured” even when they had insurance.

The lawsuit states the Minnesota Department of Public Health received numerous complaints from consumers about delayed test results and “lack of proper infection control” at Center for COVID Control testing sites. The agency then noticed that it had not received notice of any positive test results from the company, which was unlikely given the high rate of infection in the state. After sending notices to the company several times, the company sent in results from more than 3,000 tests processed in December and January, more than 70% of which were positive.

When samples went longer than 48 hours without being tested, former employees said they were told to falsify the dates of delivery. When consumers asked about their results on samples that had not been tested, managers instructed employees to lie and say the tests were negative or inconclusive.

While the company could initially handle its load of local tests, its processing center failed to expand as the company opened up testing sites around the country.

According to records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the company has received more than $100 million in reimbursements from the federal government for testing for uninsured people. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in December also cited the two companies for numerous errors in collecting samples and handling tests.

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