HOUSTON – An independent laboratory that’s processing COVID-19 tests said it has made several changes to address delays and keep up with the demand.
Several viewers have reached out to KPRC 2 since late December asking for help after they said they never received their COVID-19 lab results, or the results arrived well beyond the 24-48 hours they were quoted at their test sites.
Caroline Arthur lives in Georgetown, Kentucky. On Jan. 3, Arthur said she took a COVID-19 test at the WEDCO District Health Department and Home Agency, which up until recently, used Texas Diagnostics Laboratories to process tests.
“I thought it was really strange. At first, I thought... that just seems really odd,” Arthur said. “I’ve tested a lot here in Kentucky and never really knew where my lab results went, but I was really surprised they were all the way in Texas.”
Arthur said that night she received an email from the Texas lab informing her that she’ll receive her results in 24-48 hours. She said she got a second email days later letting her know it would be closer to five days due to delays. Arthur said she waited a week before taking a second test at a different location on Jan. 9.
“I decided to go to my health department’s Facebook page and look at the comments and they had responded to another person who was complaining about the fact they didn’t get their results,” she said. “And they (the health department) said they had parted ways with the laboratory because they too had a sense of frustration and had tried to call the lab.”
Shehzad Dalal, Chief Operating Officer of Texas Diagnostic Laboratories, apologized on Monday for the delays.
He also said the delays were related to staff members who were out with COVID and a tsunami-like holiday surge.
Dalal said like other labs in the Houston area, including his lab, were caught off guard by the high volume of people getting tested during the holidays.
“You can plan for 30% more, not 500 to 600% more,” Dalal said.
Dalal said he has hired more customer service staff to answer calls, quadrupled the number of lab technicians, invested in robotics, and ramped up operations to 24-hours to get through the backlog.
“What we did was first slow down the supply coming in,” he said. “So, we asked our site operators to slow down and to shut down for a few days. That’s number one. Secondly, we moved operations to 24-hours a day, so we’re testing and we’re taking samples all the time.”
He said some of those changes have already helped the lab catch up to speed.
“In the last one week, what we did was send out samples to our other labs in the network to help us alleviate the pressure on it and get the results out,” Dalal said.
He added that the average turnaround time now for test results is 48 to 72 hours, but said by the end of this week, it should be 24-48 hours.
Dalal said he plans to make things right for patients that have waited longer than five days for their results. He said their insurance, nor the federal government will be billed.
“We’re going to do the right thing and we’re not going to bill for those tests,” Dalal said. “We’re going to block them so we don’t bill for them because it’s taking too long and they will be on us and we’re going to eat that cost. That is our contribution.”