Private hospitals in Santa Clara County to be slapped with fines if they don’t ramp up COVID-19 testing
COVID-19 testing has significantly decreased at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds site since the holidays. File photo.

    Private hospitals in Santa Clara County that fail to provide COVID-19 testing could face a fine of up to $5,000 under a new order.

    The order, which goes into effect Sept. 25, requires hospitals to test all patients who report COVID-19 symptoms, asymptomatic patients who have been exposed to coronavirus and patients referred by the county and essential workers.

    Many residents complain they face barriers when trying to schedule COVID-19 tests with their private health care providers, according to county officials.

    “We have seen and heard about concerning practices by health care providers that discourage COVID-19 testing or make it hard to access,” County Counsel James Williams said. “That must end. The testing order is mandatory.”

    For some in Santa Clara County, having private healthcare actually makes it harder to access public testing. For example, Milpitas residents can’t use the city’s mobile testing services if they belong to Kaiser Permanente.

    “We direct those folks to contact Kaiser and it becomes a huge barrier for these residents and community members,” said Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran. “They’re unable to get tests.”

    Tran and mayors from cities across Santa Clara County said they themselves couldn’t schedule tests with their private healthcare providers.

    Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine, a Kaiser Permanente patient, said he and his daughter ended up getting tested by the county.

    Saratoga Mayor Howard Miller said he faced hoops trying to schedule a testing appointment with Kaiser online.

    “I checked just today on the Kaiser website. It is impossible to schedule a test in the Kaiser website. They put all the questions there, but then you land in a spot where it says, ‘oh, you didn’t check some box,'” Miller said.

    “A real citizen cannot schedule a test at Kaiser without making a phone call. When you make that phone call, you will find out you have to talk to five different people before they were authorized to test and then when they do authorize a test you’ll find out that it’s three days from now,” Miller said.

    Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente San Jose, said the organization supports the county’s new health order.

    “Santa Clara County’s announcement today emphasized the role of health care providers in testing as a part of surveillance, which Kaiser Permanente supports,” Chavez said.

    She added Kaiser Permanente is expanding testing capacity and access for patients in Santa Clara County and is now allowing asymptomatic people to schedule tests on the hospital’s website.

    County officials said the public health department has been forced to bear the brunt of testing in the South Bay.

    From Aug. 31 to Sept. 6, Santa Clara County conducted 13,072 tests while Kaiser Permanente conducted 4,261 tests, El Camino Health conducted 679 tests, HCA Healthcare conducted 633 tests, Sutter Health conducted 1,426 tests and Stanford conducted 3,243 tests, according to county data.

    Without expanded testing at private hospitals, health officials say asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus can infect others without knowing it.

    “We know that approximately 40% of people with COVID may not have any symptoms at all and that’s precisely why making testing easily accessible and widely available is so important,” County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody Cody said. “Because if you don’t know that you have COVID, you can’t take measures to protect people living in your household or your co-workers or anyone else.”

    The county will enforce the order by receiving individual complaints on its website from people who say they have been denied testing, Williams said. Compliance officers will conduct an investigation before ordering the health care provider to take corrective action or be fined.

    Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.

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