United Community Health Center is giving local businesses and organizations a place to turn for COVID-19 testing so they can keep operating safely.
UCHC launched a pilot program for testing in May. So far, they've tested staff and volunteers at Joyner-Green Valley Library, Sahuarita Food Bank, Farmers Investment Company, Sahuarita Unified School District and the Town of Sahuarita.
UCHC hopes the free program will serve as a model for localized, quick and convenient testing for area businesses.
CEO Dr. Rodolfo Jimenez said there has been a shortage of testing kits and the public has struggled to find places to receive testing.
“We recently went through shutting down businesses and one of the things that we're expecting is in the fall there's going to be a second wave that may be worse than what we've already seen," he said. "The thought of shutting down businesses due to a lack of testing is a big concern to us here at UCHC."
Jimenez said their goal is to help businesses remain open by providing group testing as well as testing for individual employees.
"What we're proposing is not only to work with businesses for a regular testing schedule, but also to be available to employees if an employee wakes up not feeling well," he said. "We may also be able to instill some confidence in the public that, for example, the school district is being tested and people working there are there because they were negative."
Jimenez said employees with symptoms currently bear the responsibility of figuring out where to go next. Depending on where they receive testing, results could take two weeks.
“What we're hoping to do is have the rapid tests available so we'd be able to tell an employee within 15 minutes if they're positive; there's not that wasted time that could amount to days," he said. "The last thing we want is for an employee to feel sick and not know where to go, go back to work and now there's not one employee out of work, it's going to be three or four."
For the organizations they've tested already, results came within two to 14 days. They've worked with Lab Corp, Sonora Quest, Paradigm and Santa Cruz Valley Regional Hospital for results.
Sahuarita Food Bank Executive Director Carlos Valles said when they reached out to UCHC to inquire about testing the process moved along quickly. About 60 of their staff and volunteers in total were tested in one day.
“They came out, we set them up in a classroom and I was able to schedule all 60 of our people in over two hours,” Valles said. “We had five people in line, spaced out every 10 minutes where one went in and signed paperwork then went on to the testing station.”
Valles called the testing “quick and painless” and said they received their results the next week. No one tested positive.
“Many volunteers had been asking about testing, and when UCHC agreed to do testing for all volunteers and staff we were extremely grateful,” he said. “To do this so quickly is even better.”
As they move forward, UCHC is planning to use rapid tests, though it depends on availability.
The testing instruments they've secured are antigen swab tests, chosen for their cost effectiveness and availability.
The antigen tests they’ve chosen are multi-functional and can be utilized to detect the flu, COVID-19, RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) and strep throat.
“At least we know even once we get an immunization for COVID out there and get past this pandemic, these instruments will still be useful and utilized,” Jimenez said.
Testing up to this point has been free though they are unsure if there will be a cost to businesses they test in the future.
“Right now, fortunately, we have had some money made available to help with test kits so we can offer it at no cost,” he said. “Moving forward we hope this will be available at no cost to any person to get tested, but it depends on what the government decides.”
UCHC spokesman Tom Murphy said Pima County could potentially help to fund additional kits in the future and will partner with them for contact tracing.
UCHC has done outreach to businesses via a Zoom meeting and is partnering with organizations like the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce to get the word out.
They are waiting to receive back survey data to gauge interest and need, but are ready to roll out testing agreements as soon as possible.
“We’re hoping to have surveys back and then formalize an agreement with different businesses after talking about what need they might have, coming up with frequency of testing and letting them know how employees can get a hold of us to set up testing the same day so there’s no lost time,” Jimenez said.
UCHC is planning to do on-site testing for groups of employees and are working to purchase a van that can be used as a testing site if a business does not have a place to host them. Single employees would come to their health center.
For businesses interested in a testing agreement with UCHC contact them at 520-407-5600.