UPDATED: Friday, Jan. 21 at 10:43 a.m.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced late on Jan. 20 that his office has demanded that Center for Covid Control, a Rolling Meadows-based company which provided free COVID-19 testing at pop-up sites throughout the Chicago area, extend their voluntary shutdown of test sites “for the foreseeable future.”
He also stated his office had launched an investigation in the company in response to complaints from Illinois residents, which “have ranged from testing results being delayed or not received at all, to results being provided to individuals who were never administered a test, to tests being stored improperly and staff incorrectly using PPE and face masks.”
Center for Covid Control confirmed on its website that their voluntary shutdown, which started Jan. 14, would extend beyond their planned re-open date of Jan. 22.
“CCC remains committed to providing the highest level of customer service and diagnostic quality and will not resume collection of patient samples until staffing resources permit CCC to operate at full capacity,” the company stated on its website.
The Illinois attorney general’s demand came a day after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced he had sued Center for Covid Control and its primary lab partner, Doctors Clinical Laboratory, alleging they failed to report results to state health authorities, deceived customers by promising results they could not deliver on time or did not deliver at all and provided fraudulent test results to customers.
Rolling Meadows-based Center for Covid Control operated pop-up sites in a storefront at 9219 Broadway Ave. in Brookfield and in a mobile pod at 1527 Harlem Ave. in Forest Park until Jan. 14, when they abruptly paused operations in the face of an avalanche of complaints and heightened scrutiny by officials in several states, including Illinois.
Center for Covid Control also operated a testing site in the lobby of the former Oak Park Arts Center at 200 N. Oak Park Ave. The building is now the home of the Free Church, which bought the property in 2020.
The location was a newer one for Center for Covid Control, having opened on Jan. 10. That testing site closed its doors on Jan. 14 along with other Center for Covid Control locations. Unlike the other local locations, however, the Oak Park Avenue site reopened its doors on Jan. 17.
“They told us we could resume testing because the lab was able to produce the results,” said Pastor Chuck Colegrove, who was at the site when a Growing Community Media reporter visited on Jan. 20.
The Oak Park testing site remained open to the public on Jan. 21, but Colegrove said it was no longer affiliated with Center for Covid Control. Instead, Colegrove said, the site was being run by a company called Ravinia Health.
“I don’t have all the information on when the change happened,” said Colegrove, who added he requested “better documentation” from Ravinia Health. “I said, ‘Listen, you’re putting us in a spot, because most of those other [testing sites], they’re going to close up shop and disappear, and no one will ever see them again.’ But this is our life right here.”
Colegrove said someone from Ravinia Health had approached the church prior to Jan. 10 about opening a free testing site and he agreed it would be a beneficial service for the community.
“It just felt like a great thing to offer the community,” Colegrove said. “Within a few blocks there are a lot of apartments.”
When the site opened on Jan. 10, workers brought with them signage indicating it was a Center for Covid Control site. That signage remained up through Jan. 20. Those signs were gone on Jan. 21, replaced by a simple sandwich board sign in front of the building indicating a free COVID testing site was inside.
Arbaz Rehman, a spokesman for Ravinia Health, told Wednesday Journal that the company did not approach The Free Church until Jan. 15, a day after Center for Covid Control shut down the site there. He added that Ravinia communicated with another pastor from The Free Church, Pastor Warren McMillan.
Ravinia Health, Rehman said, had never been associated with Center for Covid Control.
“The individual you interviewed was either mistaken or was simply unaware of the details,” Rehman said. “Pastor McMillan was the individual who helped organize and integrate our services to the church.”
A check of Illinois Secretary of State records shows that Ravinia Health Group LLC was created in September 2021 and lists its principal office in northwest suburban Park Ridge. The manager is listed as Shanawaz Khan, a Chicago resident.
The Ravinia Health website’s “About Us” page gives a vague description of the company as a “distinctive organization applying the highest level of service in the fight against SARS – coV-2 (Covid-19) by offering varying forms of testing.” It also states, “We partner with a CDC approved & licensed laboratory.”
That lab partner is not disclosed on that page, but at the bottom of the “Services” page of the Ravinia Health website, it directs those looking for test results to O’Hare Clinical Lab, which Illinois Secretary of State records show to be located in a different suite at the same address as Ravinia Health in Park Ridge. The manager of O’Hare Clinical Lab Services is Nasir Qader.
Center for Covid Control’s primary testing lab partner is Doctors Clinical Laboratory, which is also named in the Minnesota lawsuit. Doctors Clinical Laboratory shares the same Rolling Meadows address as Center for Covid Control and was engaged to process the thousands upon thousands of PCR tests they promised results for within 72 hours.
The complaints about the companies in the Minnesota lawsuit mirror some of those Growing Community Media heard as it researched local COVID-19 pop-up testing sites run by Center for Covid Control and another outfit called Free Covid Testing Site (FCTS), which uses its lab partner’s name, Northshore Clinical Labs, interchangeably.
According to online data from the Centers for Disease Control, Doctors Clinical Laboratory has been paid more than $110 million in federal reimbursements for COVID-19 testing while Northshore Clinical Labs has received more than $137 million from the federal government after submitting claims from people who were said to be uninsured.
O’Hare Clinical Lab Services has been paid nearly $180 million in federal claims for conducting testing services, according to the CDC.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Jan. 11 issued a warning to residents who were considering using the services of the pop-up testing providers and followed up a statement confirming his office had opened a formal investigation into Center for Covid Control.
Neither Northshore Clinical Labs nor FCTS are the subjects of any investigations at this time. On Jan. 17 Northshore Clinical Labs announced that it “has paused all third-party operation of COVID -19 testing pop-up sites.”
Meanwhile, visitors to the FCTS website now are greeted with the message: “Our Website Is Undergoing Maintenance. Thank you for your patience, FCTS!”
FCTS/Northshore Clinical Labs had operated pop-up sites at 2704 Harlem Ave. in Riverside; at the North Riverside Park Mall, 7501 Cermak Road; inside a vacant storefront at 321A Harlem Ave. in Forest Park; at 6325 W. North Ave. in Oak Park; and at 6816 W. North Ave. in Chicago.
All of the local FCTS/Northshore pop-up testing locations were closed as of Jan. 20, though signage remained on the location at 2704 Harlem Ave. in Riverside.
According to the lawsuit filed by Minnesota’s attorney general, former employees of Center for Covid Control reported that the company could not keep up with the volume of tests as it expanded rapidly across the country.
By early December 2021, according to the lawsuit, Center for Covid Control was administering 8,000 to 10,000 tests per day in Minnesota and data entry workers were unable to keep pace.
“Employees have been gathering incoming tests in garbage bags and piling them in various corners of their office without any semblance of organization,” the lawsuit states.
When employees asked the Center for Covid Control’s owners, Akbar Syed and Aleya Siyaj, for more help they reportedly refused. Instead, according to the lawsuit, Siyaj “instructed employees to ‘streamline’ data entry by entering the name of a patient and immediately hit a series of keys that would input defaults for the remaining entries, including defaulting a patient’s insurance information to ‘uninsured.’”
The company then would reportedly seek reimbursement from the federal government, claiming those with private insurance were actually uninsured.
Because of the huge backlog of tests waiting to be processed and knowing that tests were no longer “good” after three days or so, a Center for Covid Control official reportedly instructed employees to post-date test samples to make them appear more recent than they were and then send them on to the lab for processing.
Some people who had competed online forms to receive tests, but who actually never followed through with getting tested, complained that they received test result nonetheless from center for Covid Control.
“I’m holding these companies accountable that sent back false or inaccurate results, when they send them back at all, for deceiving Minnesotans and undermining the public’s trust in testing,” Ellison said in a press release.