Letter to Patients from May 27th

Good Afternoon, 

My name is Raymond with Embry Women’s Health. I am the individual in charge of building our COVID-19 testing program as well as planning and executing our Saturday COVID-19 Testing Blitz. Over the past two months you have trusted Embry Women’s Health to bring you accurate and timely COVID-19 testing. Both for the original diagnostic test and now the antibody test. I am sending you this email as you may have heard or experienced extremely disappointing turn around time on diagnostic test results from the Test Blitz on May 16. You deserve the truth and I want to set the record straight. I realize this email is long, but please read through to get the full context. 

Our commitment has always been timely results and accurate results and we have organized our operation to focus on this. As you may know there are three primary labs that medical providers use in Arizona. They consist of Sonora Quest, Labcorp and BioReference. All three of them introduced their COVID-19 Diagnostic Test the same week in March. We historically have had a fantastic relationship with BioReference and originally used them as our primary lab for the diagnostic test. They had a two day turnaround time, which for the end of March was extremely fast. As you may remember public labs in America at that time were taking upwards of 15 days to report results. 

BioReference originally did a fantastic job maintaining a consistent turn around time. Until one day they crashed and without notice results started taking a week or longer. We immediately sought answers and were met with a brick wall. We knew we had to make a change and immediately evaluated Sonora Quest and Labcorp. Before making a change we wanted to verify their published turn around time. We took swabs on several employees and sent them into both labs. After doing this several times we found that Sonora Quest had a one day turn around, while LabCorp took two. We made the obvious choice to change to Sonora Quest. 

From early April until present Sonora Quest has been our exclusive lab for COVID-19 diagnostic tests. They consistently and surprisingly maintained a 24 hour turnaround time. Many times we would wake up at 5AM to find results reported for specimens we had just sent in the previous night. Both our staff and patients were satisfied by the consistent turn around time, until last week when things fell apart at Sonora Quest. 

To say things fell apart is actually an understatement. Other more appropriate terms might be catastrophe, calamity, tribulation, take your pick. Today is May 27th and we are still waiting for results on some patients diagnostic test results from May 16th. Which is simply unacceptable. To make matters worse we had zero notice whatsoever from Sonora Quest that we would experience this change. On May 16th our staff told patients that at the max they would have to wait 1 to 2 business days. Which was actually longer than it had taken at any point in the previous two months. But we wanted to include a buffer in the event there was a delay. It has now been 8 business days and we are still waiting on some diagnostic test results. There has been zero consistency in their operation or performance regarding specimens submitted on May 16th. 

Believe me, it would never be in our best interest to misrepresent result lead times. It is harmful and unfair to our patients as well as our employees. I’m sure you can imagine the number of angry phone calls that our staff has had to take in the past several days. These are the same employees who have in some cases worked 24 hours straight on Saturday’s to run a successful Test Blitz. 

I’m going to be honest I have no idea what happened to Sonora Quest the weekend of May 16th. They are not operating in a transparent manner. Clearly something had to have happened as we have already received results from our most recent blitz on May 23rd. They have consistently told my staff and I that they are experiencing a backlog due to the recent “surge” in testing. However, if that were true, how could we already receive results from May 23rd while still waiting for results from May 16th. Please do not take this as me saying not to trust the results from Sonora Quest. Simply that there has to be some type of delay that they are not being fully transparent with. 

Additionally, I have heard from patients that they were able to get tested at a Banner location previously and receive results the next day. Please know that this is exactly the same as if you had previously been tested by Embry Women’s Health, as we always received results the next day. Banner Health uses Sonora Quest exclusively. Any patient who was tested on May 16th by Banner would have experienced the same delays we did. This was a statewide issue that the Arizona Department of Health Services is aware of and that impacted all Test Blitz sites that use Sonora Quest. 

To those patients still waiting for results, simply put I’m sorry. I know what it is like to put your life on hold due to COVID-19. There is not a single person that has not been impacted in one way or another by COVID-19. We promised you results in a timely manner and the lab partner we chose failed to deliver on that promise. But I beg of you, please do not direct your frustration at our team. Sonora Quest failed us and they have failed you. 

While I was writing this letter a patient called and yelled at my staff saying “she will tell anyone she knows to never use our service”. I’m sure you can imagine how demoralizing this is after working so hard to help people get tested. If we had known that Sonora Quest was going to fail so horribly after two months of exceptional performance we would have clearly communicated this. As well as not using Sonora Quest for our Test Blitz days. I’ve included contact information below for Sonora Quest leaders who work directly with clients. 

It would be an understatement to say that we have given our lives to making COVID-19 testing as accessible as possible. At least four of us have worked on the project every day since testing began on April 1st. On the night of May 16th we were at the office until 2AM ensuring that every specimen was ready to go out that night. They have truly given everything to this project. To ensure that anyone who wants to get tested in our community can be. We stay until the job is done and always get our specimens out on time. 

Please know that we care about you and always want to do what is right. The turnaround time at Sonora Quest seems to have mostly recovered. However, they have lost our trust in failing to communicate with us in a transparent and timely manner. We have consistently been one of the top testing sites in the state and they should have done more to ensure our patients and staff were aware of any issues. We are currently revisiting the other labs that offer COVID-19 Diagnostic tests. We sent specimens to each of them last night and may change our lab based on the results. We will continue to offer testing blitz events including this coming weekend as well as testing on other days. However, we are now telling patients 5-7 business days while using Sonora Quest. 

Thank you for your time and your trust. 

Raymond Embry 

Director of Development

PS: I encourage you to share your feedback with Sonora Quest 602.685.5000. If the delayed test results have impacted your life I know they would want to know about it. 

PPS: If you believe we could have done better on something please let me know directly [email protected] Additionally, sometimes our staff only hears when something goes wrong. If there is something they did to help you please share it with me. I know it would make their day and I would love to tell them about it.

Updates Based on Questions Received

  • Does this mean my test has been cancelled
    • No, there is no reason to believe that your test has been cancelled unless you have received specific communication from our office saying so. This is extremely rare. However, with all lab testing sometimes there will be times when the specimen does not have enough to test off of. Again this is rare. For a testing blitz of 1,200 people we typically see 2-5 cancelled tests that have to be recollected.
  • I’m still waiting for test results
    • Yes, sadly we know that patients are still waiting for test results from May 16th. We think it is as crazy as you do. Once again please know that this is not a delay with our office. When the results are finalized they are pushed into our system. It takes us several hours to review and publish to the portal.
  • I was tested at the testing blitz on 5/23, will my results be delayed
    • No, there is no reason to believe that patients from 5/23 will be impacted in the same way
    • Many patients from 5/23 have already started to receive results
  • My friend or family member has already received their result but I have not received mine
    • Do not worry, this is normal
    • Remember each specimen is collected, labeled and then placed into an individual bag. That bag is then placed into an area for pickup. The courier then collects all of the specimens.
    • Thus families are not grouped together or placed in any kind of order. They are reported out individually.
  • How will I know once my results have been published to the portal
    • You will receive a text message and email advising you that you have results available.
  • Where do I go to register for the portal
    • On our website click the link for the portal. You will need your phone number and text message to complete registration.
  • The system for the portal says it is sending me a text message but I have not received it
    • It is possible that we have the wrong phone number on file for you. Or rarely that it might not be properly entered in the mobile phone field. We are very accurate, but as you can imagine when registering 1,200 patients in one day, outside typing mistakes can happen. Give us a call or text us at 480-376-2170 and we can check the number on file.
  • I can access my results but not my family member
    • Text or call us at 480-376-2170 and we will give you access to other family member accounts
  • The staff said I have access to my family members accounts but I can not see them in the portal
    • You might have to access the portal from the desktop version. Once signed in click your name in the upper right corner. It should allow you to select your family member from the drop down
  • I have surgery scheduled and I am waiting on the results of the swab
    • We are very sorry, we wish we could make them come back sooner. We have told the surgery centers for at least two weeks that they need to give patients at least a 10 day buffer for results. We know it is not easy to hear but you may have to reschedule your elective surgery / procedure. But on the bright side at least they are allowed to be done now.
  • I think the Testing Blitz could have been better organized
    • We are always open to feedback and would love to know things we can do to improve. Each week we have gotten better as we learn more.
    • Here are the changes we made on 5/23
      • Telling patients that results will take 5 to 7 business days to ensure we set appropriate expectations based on experiences from 05/16
      • Communicated to tenants at the adjacent Dover Shores of the event and how to navigate it
      • Better involving Mesa Police Department in communications and traffic control
      • Increasing the event to a full 24 hours to help spread out demand
      • Increasing the number of testing bays to 16
      • Increasing the number of providers
      • Increasing the number of admin staff to check patients in and out
      • Investing in high speed ID scanners to make data entry faster and decrease insurance errors after the fact
      • Purchasing two pallets ($800) of water and gatorade to ensure everyone stayed hydrated
      • Increasing the number of Arizona National Guard to 15 from 12 working in 3 shifts around the clock for 24 hours
      • Putting in specimen orders at the time of collection to ensure the specimen could go out within two hours (This made the testing process slightly slower but ensured the specimen could get to the lab within hours rather than waiting until later that night)
    • Changes made 5/16
      • Increased testing bays from 6 to 12
      • Increasing the event to 16 hours to help spread out demand
      • Increasing the number of providers
      • Increasing the number of admin staff to check patients in and out
      • Changed the line for blood collection to be in the shade running across the lake
  • How many patients has Embry Women’s Health tested for COVID-19
    • We have tested over 10,000 patients for COVID-19
  • I think your Testing Blitz was horribly run
    • We are sorry to hear this. We tried really hard and I genuinely believe we have improved each week. Honestly, we run a medical practice and this is our first time ever doing something like this. All things considered they seem to have gone very smoothly.
    • Please just remember that there are real people giving up their lives to run these events
    • Especially remember that there are real people on the other end of the text, email and phone call
    • If Embry Women’s Health messes up we will own it.
  • I think your Testing Blitz was very well run
    • Thank you, this really means the world to us
    • We try very hard to ensure anyone who wants to get tested can be tested
    • It takes a lot of work to test between 1,200 and 2,000 people in one day
    • There are over 50 people involved in a single test blitz day
  • I do not want to come back to Embry Women’s Health again, and definately do not want to ever hear from you again
    • Please let us know by text or phone call at 480-376-2170 that you would like to be inactivated as a patient
    • This will ensure you do not receive future communications
    • Please note you will no longer be able to access the patient portal which is automated when a patient is set to inactive (We do not control this)
    • We are sorry with all sincerity that you have made this choice if based on something negative
  • Can I volunteer
    • We are always looking for help in every way possible
  • Can I get my office tested
    • Yes, we can arrange something for your business, office or other large group that needs to be tested
    • We have tested everyone from the Arizona National Guard to a sky dive drop zone in Maricopa
    • We want to stop COVID-19
  • Why are you doing all of this
    • We want to stop COVID-19
    • We realized that we had great people and available resources to do it