Atrium Health Expands Access to COVID-19 Testing in Underserved and Minority Communities

Coronavirus Updates, News | 3 years ago

How We’re Serving the Underserved Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

Atrium Health is proud to be a national leader in how we’re improving access to coronavirus testing for underserved and minority communities. As one of the only health systems in the nation to use Geographical Information System data, we’re targeting emerging hotspots to identify and pinpoint communities in need and are providing mobile testing sites in those areas based on the data collected.

With the majority of states implementing stay-at-home mandates and encouraging the public to follow CDC recommendations, most of us are able to follow basic steps to protect ourselves from exposure to coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Recommendations include staying at home, social distancing, using a face mask in public spaces, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and more.

But what happens when a low-income household can’t afford these preventative items or are essential workers leaving the home to go to work each day? And if they do start to experience symptoms, what happens when they don’t have the means to access a testing site and isolate from others? After all, a virtual visit requires use of technology and affected individuals need a car to drive to the nearest testing site.

To address the needs of these underserved and minority communities, Atrium Health is improving access to care by adding additional Coronavirus Testing Centers using Geographical Information System (GIS) data to determine where testing sites are needed the most. Here, Kinneil Coltman, DHA, senior vice president, chief community & external affairs officer at Atrium Health, shares what makes these new testing sites unique and how they’re impacting our communities in need for the greater good.

Question 1: What are the barriers for underserved and minority communities?

Answer 1 | Coltman: There are two main barriers for underserved and minority communities that we have identified. One is the use of, and availability of technology is a huge barrier for underserved communities. For a lot of testing sites, you need a phone to make an appointment and other smart technologies for virtual care. A lot of individuals can’t afford these devices, and are therefore unable to receive these options for care. The other barrier is much more basic. I always say testing is only as good as the cars you have to get to your test sites. A large number of individuals in these populations don’t have a car to transport them to testing sites. So with these mobile Coronavirus Testing Centers, we are bringing the sites to these neighborhoods.

Q2: What is Geographical Information System (GIS) data and how is it impacting these testing sites?
A2 | Coltman: This is a tool that we are very excited about. We are one of the only health systems in the nation using GIS data for the placement of Coronavirus Testing Centers. What this means is that we're using geography-based data to see where COVID-19 is spreading on a map so we can identify where the emerging hotspots are and what parts of our community might have trouble accessing testing. Using this information, we can then pin point where we’ll station our testing sites and work with community partners to get the word out there to ensure improved access to care within these communities.

Q3: What criteria might someone need to meet to qualify for testing?
A3 | Coltman: These testing sites are different in that community members in the identified underserved areas will not need an appointment or a physician referral. Anyone experiencing symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of smell and/or taste, can visit our mobile Coronavirus Testing Centers to be screened for immediate COVID-19 testing.

Q4: What makes this different from other testing sites?
A4 | Coltman: For starters, we’re removing the requirement for an appointment and this differentiates these from other Coronavirus Testing Centers. These sites will screen community members, and if they meet the criteria for testing, they will be immediately tested for COVID-19.

These testing sites are also unique in that we assess other social determinants of health with patients - Do they have the ability to isolate if tests are positive? Are they able to get food? Do they have access to a pharmacy? Once we know this, Atrium Health will make connections to resources needed to address their social needs.

Q5: How much will testing cost?
A5 | Coltman: In fulfilling our mission to provide health, hope and healing – for all, Atrium Health will ensure the ability to pay will not be an inhibiting factor for those who need screened and tested. All bills for this visit are being held for now. If you have insurance, your insurance may be billed at a later time. If you do not have insurance, you will not be billed.

Q6: How long is the turnaround time for test results?
A6 | Coltman: We’re proud to be one of the few health systems in the nation to have our own in-house testing. Patients can typically expect results the same day of the testing.

Q7: Do you need identification to be screened and tested?
A7 | Coltman: Identification is not required to be tested. Additionally, Atrium Health does not share a patient’s immigration status and will not report if a patient is undocumented.

Q8: Are there plans to add more testing site locations?
A8 | Coltman: Yes, we are identifying more sites on a weekly basis. We select new sites based on the results from our Geographical Information System (GIS) data, which uses real-time information from week-to-week to determine where testing sites are needed the most.

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