Newton-Wellesley Hospital began accepting referrals for safety net testing from the City of Newton in September to provide COVID-19 testing for vulnerable residents who are underinsured, uninsured, or without health care providers. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced a partnership between Newton and Newton-Wellesley Hospital on Aug. 26 that provides testing for eligible members of the Newton school community or social service clients.
“This is about access to testing for those who might not otherwise have it,” Newton Health and Human Services Commissioner Deborah Youngblood wrote in an email to The Heights. “We want to be sure that there are not financial barriers to receiving COVID tests to mitigate the risk of disproportionate impact of the virus on low income residents.”
Vulnerable residents who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or have recently been in contact with someone who has tested positive are instructed by Newton’s Health and Human Services staff to call Newton’s Health and Human Services staff, who will then provide a referral to Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where they will receive a test.
“I think we’ve just left it to be anybody who is vulnerable in the broad sense that they can’t get testing elsewhere,” Jodi Larson, the chief quality and experience officer at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, said about vulnerable residents. “It’s anybody susceptible to the disease, whether it’s through exposure or risk factors, that needs to get tested but can’t.”
Newton-Wellesley Hospital uses the nasopharyngeal swab, a PCR test that detects antigens, to test for COVID-19.
Larson explained that, under the CARES Act, either insurance or the federal government must help cover the cost of testing for anyone who exhibits symptoms or has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Otherwise, the test would cost roughly $150 to $160.
Youngblood said that to best protect the community, Newton plans to continue working with Newton-Wellesley Hospital indefinitely.
“We have deliberately left it open ended so we can assess the need and effectiveness of the partnership,” Youngblood wrote.
Youngblood and Larson were unaware of any related alliances in the area. Larson said that Wellesley has reached out to Newton-Wellesley Hospital looking to establish a similar agreement and is in the process of being formed as of Oct. 23.
“I think that having this partnership has been really beneficial,” Larson said. “I think the hospital wants to do our best to support the community and to help stop the spread of the disease as quickly as possible, so the sooner the city can identify people that need to be tested, we want to get them in and tested so we can isolate people, quarantine them, and do the right thing as quickly as possible. This is a real critical relationship to have for controlling the pandemic.”
The positivity rate in Newton was .36 percent from Oct. 15 to Oct. 29. The state’s COVID-19 community data map lists Newton as a moderate-risk community. This means that there have been four to eight cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks.
“This new partnership to provide access to testing for those who may otherwise struggle helps protect everyone in our community and ensures that those tested have complete and timely information about their COVID-19 status,” Fuller said in a statement released Sept. 24.
Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For The Heights