MPH to offer rapid COVID19/respiratory disease testing

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by Marissa Lorenz
The Kremmling Memorial Hospital District Board of Directors approved $60,000 at their most recent regular meeting for the purchase of equipment and reagent to facilitate rapid-response COVID-19 and other respiratory testing at Middle Park Health’s Kremmling facility.

As Grand County’s largest health care facility, Middle Park Health (MPH) has stood ready to help with screening, testing, isolation, and care since the beginning of the novel coronavirus concern. To date, they have tested over 1,000 patients, according to Deb Plemmons, Vice President of Nursing at MPH.

MPH has also begun doing antibody serum testing to determine whether or not an individual may have had the coronavirus in their system at any point in time. Plemmons reports that the hospital has performed
over 120 of these tests and that “many have come back positive.”

But local and state health professionals have become more and more frustrated over the increasingly lengthy turnaround time for COVID-19 testing, just as numbers are starting to rise in Colorado and many of its communities. Most testing facilities in the state perform the test then send it on to a state lab for processing. Average wait times are now between 12 and 15 days, a time frame that means response and quarantine times are being extended.

MPH Director of Laboratory Services Van Nguyen noted both the opportunity and the concern for the Grand County community. She presented to the KMHD Board, noting the research that she had done and the negotiated agreement that she had reached for the in-demand machine and reagent.

She noted that PCR was the standard test being used by the state and that it really is the preferred test. “Many of the rapid tests you hear about,” she explained, “are antigen tests”–tests which have a high rate of false positive results, up to 40%.
“With long-term elderly and at-risk patients in our community and a low rate of disease, we want to make sure that what we bring
in high quality testing,” Nguyen stressed. “When we’re talking elderly patients, a false negative puts an at-risk population at even higher risk.”

She went on to outline the financial benefits of the long-term investment and the health benefits to the community. She recommended placing the equipment in Kremmling where there was available space, with no construction needs, and where the current staff could perform and process tests 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

The recommended equipment can process a test within an hour and a half and the hospital without having to send it off-site. Nguyen noted that the hospital can bill up to $1,780 for each test, making it a profitable endeavor as well as one that would return rapid results for faster response to illness.

The PCR equipment tests for other respiratory disease as well as COVID-19, including A and B influenza, a number of parainfluenzas, rhinovirus, and chlamydia pneumoniae, a panel of testing that Nguyen assures meets with most physician needs. “It’s a one-stop shop.”

Discussion among staff and board members was enthusiastic with Dr. Jason Stuerman explaining that both West and East Grand School districts were also excited about the possibility.

“Both school districts want to have employees tested monthly,” he noted, with even more frequency possible. “That’s 340 tests a month.”

Such an agreement would help the hospital distract meet and likely exceed the negotiated 1500 tests a year, a seemingly great deal for rural Grand County, when other vendors were wanting to sell reagent for 4,000 tests a year.

The result could be a potential $700,000 boon to Middle Park Health, Nguyen went on to explain, even with reduced reimbursement from Medicaid and Medicare and potential non-paying patients.

The Board voted unanimously to approve the $56,000 equipment with a $4,000 purchase of reagent.
Nguyen further explains the investment.“The PCR instrument being purchased by Middle Park Health is called an eplex by the manufacturer GenMark. PCR testing is the gold standard and key to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. State-wide, there is a huge delay in testing, which has directly affected patient care in the form of extended quarantine and re-scheduled surgeries.”

“With this new analyzer, MPH will be able to test a minimum of 20 patients a day with the capability to scale up as needed. A lot of thought and planning went into making sure we did our due diligence when evaluating what was best for the community we serve.”

“Middle Park Health’s laboratory department is working hard to validate the instrument with an anticipated go-live date of late August. We are very excited to keep care local by continuing to provide high quality testing to Grand County.”

For more information or to seek respiratory testing or treatment, go to middleparkhealth. org or call 970-724-3422.

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