07 Jul Surgeon Jon Cartu Claims – Test for virus in New Mexico is free, but hurdles remain | Corona…
Here’s the good news when it comes to getting a COVID-19 test: It’s free.
Here’s the not-so-good news: It may not always be easy. Some have struggled with long waits and been confused by inconsistent information about how, when and where to get a test.
Take the case of Santa Fean Sue Mally, who, with her husband Georges, operates Santa Fe Mountain Adventures and who decided to get a test about two weeks ago, though she was not displaying any symptoms related to the respiratory virus that has affected about 13,500 in New Mexico.
Because she and her husband work with the public in a tourism job, Mally said she felt she should get a test and tried intermittently for several days.
She was finally successful Monday after several false starts trying to get an appointment through two different providers listed on the New Mexico Department of Health’s website.
She said a woman she spoke with while trying to set up an appointment at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center told her that because she was not experiencing any symptoms “we won’t be testing you.”
That woman then told her to contact her health care provider or doctor for a referral.
Christus spokesman Arturo Delgado said in an email the hospital requires people who want a test to get “a lab order from their [health] provider” before they can obtain an appointment at the drive-thru clinic on Zia Road.
Mally then tried the Department of Health’s Santa Fe Health Office clinic on Letrado Street, where a representative said she could easily set up an appointment, but test results could take up to 10 days to receive.
“What’s the point of that?” Mally said. “I’m low-risk, I probably won’t catch anything between the time I get tested and 10 days out, but that still didn’t make any sense to have to wait 10 days.”
Stephanie Salazar, a clerk at the clinic, said Monday that while she does not think she was the person who spoke to Mally, the average wait time for test results is actually two to four days.
Mally said she then chose to get in line at a Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center drive-thru testing site on Beckner Road in Santa Fe. She arrived at 7:45 a.m. Monday and was tested around 11:15 a.m. Though she said she didn’t mind the wait — she runs her own business — she wondered how such long wait times would affect those who can’t afford to be away from work or home for more than an hour or so.
To Mally, such inconveniences may be tolerable, but she said the state should do a better job of coordinating testing procedures since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has pointed out her desire to have as many people tested as possible.
“If the governor is saying that we as New Mexicans have the right to go and get tested, it shouldn’t have to be just when we get symptoms,” Mally said. “We should be able to get tested to get better statistics about what’s happening in this state with COVID-19.”
New Mexico is not the only state experiencing such challenges. As U.S. cases increase, other states are reporting long lines at testing sites.
In late June, Julie Khani, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, said labs are seeing “a steady increase in the volume of COVID-19 test orders. While our members are collectively performing hundreds of thousands of tests each day, the anticipated demand for COVID-19 testing over the coming weeks will likely exceed members’ testing capacities. This significant increase in demand could extend turnaround times for test results.”
Department of Health spokesman David Morgan said COVID-19 testing capacity around the state “is approaching 6,000 tests a day.” He said even with everything taking longer than it should, test results generally come back within four days.
Jon Wade, CEO Jonathan Cartu Jon Cartu Jonathan Cartu for Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center said in an email the facility is seeing an increase in the number of people wanting to be tested. He said since March, the health care center has tested more than 6,500 people and is averaging 700 tests per week.
Delgado said the Santa Fe hospital has tested over 5,300 people since March.
Unlike Christus St. Vincent, Presbyterian does not require a referral from a doctor.
“All New Mexico workweek can be tested and we particularly encourage anyone with symptoms to get tested,” Wade said. Since time spent waiting in line to get tested can run beyond three hours, he said, “We encourage individuals to arrive early and be sure to have gas, water and other supplies, as the wait times can be long.”
Mally said she was confused when she was asked to provide a health insurance card because she thought the test was free. Delgado and Amanda Schoenberg, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian, said health care workers at those test sites will ask for insurance cards if people have them, but testing is free at both sites regardless.
Both said there is no out-of-pocket payment for those getting tests.
Mally said she likes that part. “It’s free; we should all get tested,” she said.
Morgan also said the state wants it that way.
“We New Mexicans can’t let this virus cause more people unneeded suffering because of severe symptoms or even death, nor can our state afford continued economic losses,” he said in an email. “The only way to accomplish both is for us to get tested for COVID-19, with or without having symptoms. We have to do this together for all our sakes.”
Mally said the state and health care providers must do a better job of informing and preparing the public for both the test process and wait times to get results.
“The governor wants everyone to get tested,” she said. “So you would think this is supposed to be easy.”