COVID-19 test result times a source of frustration
Turns out it’s not just those with long wait times for COVID-19 test results that are frustrated, it’s the hospital system, too.
On July 23, Lee Health officials voiced their displeasure when it comes to long turn around times for COVID-19 testing, saying some tests have taken up to two weeks to return results when sent to outside labs. The state on July 23 also reported the highest single-day death toll since the pandemic began with 173.
“The increased demand for coronavirus testing is continuing to lead to longer turnaround times to receive results,” Lee Health President Dr. Larry Antonucci said. “We are still processing as many tests as possible in our in-house labs, but with the high volume we are experiencing today, we need to send specimens to commercial labs in order to keep up. We are limited in the number of in-house tests we can perform by the supplies we are able to receive from the testing companies. While we often receive results back from outside commercial labs within a week, for many patients it might take as long as 14 days to learn their test results.
“These longer wait times naturally lead to frustration and anxiety. Frankly, we’re frustrated, too,” he said. “We are working on acquiring additional testing kits so that we can perform more tests in our in-house labs.”
Antonucci said that Lee Health prioritizes lab testing for patients currently admitted in the hospital and is able to turn around those test results in a few hours.
Officials recommended that if someone is waiting for a test result and are showing symptoms, that individual should follow guidelines as if they were positive.
“Our goal is to get you back on your feet as quickly as possible. The time you are waiting on your test results will have no impact on the care you receive or the outcome of your infection,” Antonucci said. “If you are managing your illness from home, you should act under the assumption that you are positive and isolate yourself from others. If your symptoms worsen, particularly if you are having trouble breathing, contact your primary care physician immediately. If your symptoms are severe, come to the emergency department.”
To help ease the burden on Lee Health’s call centers, officials asked those who are looking for their test results to use the MyChart mobile app.
Antonucci said if a sample was collected through one of Lee Health’s mobile collection sites, one of their emergency departments, Convenient Care clinic or a Lee Physician Group office, that individual will get their COVID test result in the MyChart app as soon as their physician gets the result.
“We are asking to please hold off on calling to ask about COVID test results for at least 16 days after you’ve been tested,” he said. “Understandably, these longer wait times may cause concern that tests have been lost, but I promise you that is a very rare occurrence.”
STAFFING CONCERNS BEING ADDRESSED
Lee Health officials said on July 23 they have a “substantial effort” under way to bring back seasonal staff ahead of schedule as well as return those who optioned to exercise Lee Health’s leave of absence or summer sabbatical programs.
Antonucci said at the time those programs were offered, volumes around the system were down nearly 40 percent, and “the current surge was unforeseeable.”
“The voluntary exit program was designed to secure Lee Health’s long-term financial outlook in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it was not a short-term temporary solution,” he said. “Our volumes at the time were down nearly 40 percent, and the current surge was unforeseeable. However, this program has had little impact on our need to bring in additional staff to open up more beds. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to hospital volumes up to 30 percent higher than normal for this time of year, and hospitals across this country are facing these same challenges.”
With a rise in cases across Southwest Florida occurring out of season, Antonucci said finding extra staffing presents challenges.
“Hospitals staff to match expected patient volume, and due to the seasonality of Southwest Florida, many nurses, respiratory therapists and other team members with the right training and experience to care for COVID-19 patients are here only part of the year,” he said. “We have many seasonal workers who take the summer off. We have a substantial effort under way to bring back seasonal staff early and welcome back employees who were on a leave of absence or summer sabbatical.”
Antonucci said they have brought in additional nurses and that more are expected to arrive in the near future.
“We have brought in traveling nurses and more are coming in the next two weeks. Since July 6, 57 additional RNs have starting working in our hospitals, and we have more critical care staff starting work each week,” he said. “Lee Health is utilizing every resource available to bring in critical care staff to help relieve some of pressure currently being placed on our hospitals. We are also working to bring back some staff members who participated in the voluntary exit program on a contractual basis.”
Antonucci ended by again reminding the public that it is safe to come to the hospital or emergency room amidst the pandemic.