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‘I walked around with COVID for a week’: GS Labs, subcontractor issue delays test results

Published: Dec. 19, 2020 at 6:43 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A 6 News investigation has uncovered processing problems that held up nearly 200 COVID-19 test results in the Omaha-metro, and at least one of those instances may have led to spread of the virus.

GS Labs, which works closely with 88Med in Omaha, offers three tests:

  • The antibody test determines whether you were ever exposed to COVID-19.
  • The antigen test gives you results in up to 20 minutes.
  • The PCR test, hailed as the most accurate COVID-19 test.

It’s specifically the PCR saliva tests that are what GS Labs and its subcontractor, ImmunoGenomics in Texas, say has created a mountain of headaches.

“The saliva-based testing wasn’t being offered too many places,” said Gabe Sullivan, owner of GS Labs in Omaha.

Sullivan said he chose the Texas company because he wanted to offer a newer, faster, and accurate COVID test option for the metro. But, says he quickly realized there was a problem.

“Everything for the first few days was going good. Then we started noticing that patients were not getting their results like we were told,” Sullivan explained.

The agreement between GS Labs and ImmunoGenomics stipulated GS Labs would deliver antibody and antigen results, since they were processed locally. ImmunoGenomics would deliver PCR results via online portal, since they were conducting those tests out of state.

Twinkle Patel, owner of ImmunoGenomics, said the reason tests were late had nothing to do with issues on her end. She further explained that not only did she receive broken and possibly contaminated specimens, but she was also missing correct contact information.

In order for tests to be processed correctly and in accordance with state regulations, an electronic order from the lab (in this case - GS Labs), must be entered for each patient’s saliva sample. That order then generates a request for a test and must match all the personal information belonging to the patient’s name, date of birth, email, etc.

Patel, who is also a medical lab scientist, said there were tons of those missing.

“174 specimen did not have any orders — no information on hand,” she said. “All we had was just a pre-printed bar code with labels. Some patients’ (tests) did not even have anything on it.”

Patel also told 6 News she reached out to the lab to request the missing information but struggled for days to reach anyone. GS Labs said this was not true.

“No communication from them,” she said. “I had to kinda chase them. I even sent my own staff to Omaha to train GS Labs on how to properly process orders when we first decided to work together. I did that on my own dime.”

GS Labs did confirm that.

When Patel said GS Labs eventually responded, she received an email from a manager stating: “This is not a process I am used to” and “I cannot figure out where the gaps are for ordering but I am trying.”

Patel explained she did not feel comfortable processing the labs with incorrect or missing information because it was outside of protocol, but at the recommendation of Dr. Darin Jackson - Medical Director for 88 Med, a GS Labs subcontractor, she proceeded.

Saliva tests do have an expiration date and can become compromised if not tested in the proper window of time.

The owner of GS Labs disputes Patel’s claims and maintains all the patient information was correctly inputted by his staff. So, he said he decided to discontinue working with ImmunoGenomics.

Things got murkier from there.

Thursday, Patel said GS Labs failed to fulfill their agreement to pay ImmunoGenomics $169,000, which was due Monday, Dec. 14, despite her completing their request. That payment equates to $80 a specimen.

Sullivan confirmed that information and said he would not be paying Patel until the investigation was complete and he had a full picture of how many customers in the metro had been impacted.

Friday, after this story aired, Gabe Sullivan told 6 News he decided to send a partial payment, despite dealing with snowballing issues and unsatisfied customers from the failed working agreement.

“I cannot stress enough that these are very important tests,” said Sullivan. “We live right here in this community. We do not want testing results not getting out. We have created a call center, staffed 12 hours a day just to get information out and help recover these results. We’re working around the clock.”

With discrepancies in testing, results, communication issues, and still processing thousands of COVID tests daily, Sullivan quickly decided to switch to Quest Labs to takeover.

Quest Labs, however, had a technological glitch in the first days of working with GS and that also held up hundreds of COVID PCR test results.

At least one of those belonged to a Council Bluff’s man named Travis. He went to GS Labs after saying he woke up with no sense of smell the second week of December.

His antigen test came back negative, and he said he never received his PCR results at all which led him to believe it was a just a bad cold. “I thought I was in the clear,” Travis said.

“I was pretty irritated. I got a mom who’s got emphysema,” he said. “I got tested to make sure I didn’t have the virus, then went to work when the results were negative. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t putting anyone else in harm’s way.”

It wasn’t until he received a call from Pottawattamie County Health Department stating he was positive that Travis learned he was living life normally and potentially spreading the virus.

GS Labs turned to a third testing vendor to continue processing the overwhelming amount of tests being received, but didn’t wait for Quest’s issues to be rectified and chose to continue processing specimens.

“We’re processing thousands of tests a day. There’s a huge need for these and we want to get this information out accurately and quickly for the community,” Sullivan said.

All of the issues with Quest have since been fixed, he said, and GS Labs has resumed normal operations. They are still in the process of investigating the problems with ImmunoGenomics to ensure additional patients were not impacted.

If a person has not received results, they are urged to call GS Labs immediately.

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