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Covid testing company with 300 pop-up sites across US faces multiple probes

A company that operates more than 300 Covid-19 pop-up testing sites across the country is being investigated by several states and a federal agency after receiving dozens of consumer complaints ranging from test results late to concerns that no testing was being done. .

The Illinois-based Center for Covid Control was founded in December 2020 by Aleya Siyaj, 29, whose previous experience includes starting an ax throwing parlor and donut shop, according to the state’s business records and its LinkedIn page.

In recent weeks, the Oregon Department of Justice and the Illinois Attorney General have opened civil investigations into the company. Massachusetts and Rhode Island issued cease-and-desist letters to the company, and local regulators in Washington and California shut down several of its sites for operating without a license.

An inspection by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid also shut down several sites operating without a license in Massachusetts.

“We take any allegations of fraud or misconduct by COVID-19 testing sites seriously,” said Dr. Lee Fleisher, chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. Services.

“CMS is actively investigating numerous complaints about several labs and testing sites associated with this private company.”

The Center for Covid Control announced on Thursday that it had suspended operations for a week and plans to reopen on January 22.

In a statement posted on its website, the company said “due to our rapid growth and recent unprecedented demand for testing, we have not been able to meet all of our commitments.” He said he would use the hiatus “for additional staff training in sample collection and handling, refocusing on customer service and communication practices, and to ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines.”

The company noted that its testing volume had recently increased tenfold, to 80,000 tests per day, and that a key factor in its “current customer service challenges” was the rapid spread of Omicron among its 3,000 staff. front line.

An internal memo, first obtained by USA Today, also cited “increased media scrutiny of the operations of our collection sites” over the past week, which, along with consumer complaints, “has trained various state health services and even [the Oregon] Department of Justice takes a keen interest in our business.

In response to a request for comment from NBC News, a spokesman for the center, Russ Keene, said the company was “in the process of recruiting new talent and an ethics officer.”

After taking a test at one of the company’s sites in Oregon in September, Kelly Fisher contacted the state attorney general, saying she feared she had been “scammed” because the site “looked very dodgy” and was not listed on the site. status page for Covid testing resources.

She said they asked her to provide a picture of her driver’s license and insurance information and did not deliver results within the promised timeframe. The state attorney general received 10 similar complaints against the company in that week alone.

“I was confident that any entity engaged in this operation was doing so in good faith,” Fisher said in an interview with NBC News. “Since then I have only been tested in my doctor’s office.”

People line up for free Covid-19 tests at a temporary site set up by the Center for Covid Control in Santa Fe, NM on January 3, 2022.Sam Wasson / Sipa USA via AP

The Center for Covid Control is one of many testing companies that have caught the eye of local and state agencies.

With demand for Covid-19 testing at unprecedented levels due to the spread of the Omicron variant, officials have warned against unlicensed and fraudulent pop-up testing sites. Lawmakers and attorneys general in several states — including California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas — have said they will investigate and introduce regulatory bills to oversee such operations.

In New York alone, the Attorney General has already registered 179 complaints and opened investigations into companies charging for tests, sent letters asking others to stop promising misleading results deadlines and issued advice to consumers on how spot fraudulent test sites.

The rise of unlicensed pop-up testing sites is the latest example of Covid-19-related fraud that regulators have struggled to combat throughout the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 650,000 reports of fraud, identity theft and other Covid-related scams that have cost Americans more than $636 million.

Sample collection

The Center for Covid Control has grown to more than 300 sites and 3,000 staff in just over a year, according to its website. It describes itself as one of the nation’s largest providers of Covid-19 testing and one of the first to offer walk-in testing.

Consumers have filed complaints against the company with attorneys general’s offices in at least three states. The Better Business Bureau, which gave the company an “F” rating, said it sent the company eight unanswered complaints.

Complaints made through BBB range from “not receiving test results to not receiving a refund after paying for the test,” spokeswoman Sandra Guile said.

Covid testing company with 300 pop-up sites across US faces multiple probes

The Center for Covid Control is run by Aleya Siyaj and her husband, Ali Syed, according to a person familiar with the company. The person described the center as “a marketing and management company that collects samples.”

“It’s about a young husband and wife entrepreneur who has investors and partners,” the person said. “They identified a market need and took advantage of it.”

The center’s website states that it is “associated with a CDC-accredited, accredited laboratory that is registered with the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)”.

This lab, called Doctors Clinical Laboratory, appears in the CDC’s Certified Lab search at two addresses, one of which is the same Rolling Meadows, Illinois address listed for the Center for Covid Control’s business registration. The lab has been in operation since 2001, according to business records.

Calls made on Thursday to the phone number listed on the Doctors Clinical Lab website went to an outgoing message that read, “Thank you for calling the Center for Covid Control.”

But a spokesperson for the Center for Covid Control said there was “no cross-ownership or commercial affiliation between the two entities”.

A spokesperson for CMS, which oversees the lab certification process, said the agency was investigating Doctors Clinical Lab. He “identified non-conformities and awaits a response from the laboratory to the shortcomings cited”.

State and federal agencies have warned consumers against unlisted test providers on government-run or affiliated websites, saying some pop-up sites could steal personal information and money.

Consumers should be wary of sites that ask for too much personal information, such as social security and credit card numbers. They may provide no test results or a false negative result.

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