After Santa Fe behavioral therapist Isaiah Sorrell was notified that a client’s relative had tested positive for COVID-19, he searched for the nearest site to take his own test and found a pop-up location. in the Sprouts parking lot on the south side.
But unlike other COVID-19 testing sites in the city, this one is not endorsed by the New Mexico Department of Health. It’s run by a company facing a slew of complaints and investigations alleging shady business practices and long waits for results. Others said they paid for expedited test results that never arrived.
“I don’t think it should be allowed to continue if it’s true,” Sorrell said as he lined up at the site Thursday to register. “There are a lot of people who need these tests.”
The company that runs the site, Center for COVID Control, has generated “numerous complaints both locally and across the country,” according to the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois website.
According to the bureau – which gives the company an F grade – the complaints covered a range of issues, such as poor customer service and requests for personal data such as driver’s license information.
The Oregon Department of Justice, along with other state agencies, have since launched investigations into the company. Other cities have closed test centers for operating without a business license.
Dave Herndon, spokesman for the city of Santa Fe, wrote in an email that the site was not associated with the city and said the state attorney general’s office is reviewing the complaints.
Jerri Mares, director of communications and legislative affairs for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email that the office is reviewing complaints it has received to determine the best course of action.
Representatives from the New Mexico Department of Health did not respond to emails regarding testing sites.
The company, based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, claims on its website to operate more than 300 testing sites across the country, including the Santa Fe site and one in Albuquerque. The company was established in December 2020 and lists Aleya Siyaj as founder and CEO, according to the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.
In response to the complaints, the company said in a press release on Thursday that it would suspend testing at its sites nationwide from Friday until Jan. 22. In the statement, she blamed the complaints on staffing issues amid increased testing.
“The Center for COVID Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate and compliant way,” Siyaj said in a statement. “Unfortunately, due to our rapid growth and recent unprecedented demand for testing, we have not been able to meet all of our commitments.”
But according to USA today, who got an internal memo to company employees, the hiatus is due in part to heightened media scrutiny.
“While many of the accusations against us may be overstated, there are certainly areas where we need to improve. We need to do better to ensure our sites are compliant, our staff properly trained and most importantly, we need to ensure that we conduct and report every test accurately,” the memo reads, according to USA today.
The company’s Twitter account has been suspended.
Its website says the company offers free testing as well as workplace testing, but when customers register online, they are asked to provide personal data such as driver’s license information, photo and their health insurance provider.
The company says in its press release that it uses independent laboratory Doctors Clinical Laboratory — the Santa Fe site’s test cards display its logo in the upper left corner — as a clinical trial partner. The lab is registered with the United States Food and Drug Administration; its listed address is the same as the Center for COVID Control.
The company also claims to have administered up to 80,000 tests a day and has more than 3,000 employees.
At the company’s testing site in Santa Fe, in a portable office on the corner of Cerrillos Road and Zafarano Drive, a large red, white and blue sign advertised “Free COVID-19 Testing.” The bottom of the ad states that no insurance information is required.
Inside the office on Thursday, a man in a lab coat handed lined customers test materials and an information card with a QR code so they could scan and save their information. The man said the site had been open for two to three months.
Customers were then sent back to their vehicles to self-administer the test. After that, they put the swabs back in the same disposable packaging they came out of before going up a separate line to submit the samples.
After being told of the allegations, Virgil Vigil of Santa Fe, who was queuing to turn in his results, said he was ready to complete the process because he needed the test results for the job.
Still, Vigil said he was particularly concerned about how the samples were handled and the legitimacy of the results.
Sorrell had similar concerns. While administering the test in his car, he criticized the way the samples were stored.
“It should be in some kind of sealed container,” he said, “but like I said, I needed to get tested.”
Saleswoman Dulce Merino of Santa Fe was in line to sign up for a test Thursday morning after waking up with symptoms of COVID-19, but after being told of the allegations she opted to find another site.
“It’s a little worrying,” she said before leaving. “Especially with the number of people queuing here.”
Around 45 people could be seen queuing on Thursday. Among them was Rick Volden of Santa Fe, who said he waited in line for about 2.5 hours before submitting his test.
Volden said he heard a conversation about the claims and became skeptical once he saw the site was not on the Department of Health’s list of approved testing locations.
He said he was told about the site when he called local hospitals to inquire about testing locations.