Thanks to a grant from the 2020 Rescue Fund administered through the Aspen Community Foundation, there is now $470,000 available to county and hospital officials to fund COVID-19 testing without having to go through third-party insurance companies for the duration of the year.
Pitkin County Public Health and Aspen Valley Hospital partnered to offer community-wide testing for anyone displaying symptoms reflective of the disease cause by the novel coronavirus in late April — but those tests require a physician’s order, and while the hospital has committed to ensuring nobody will have to face out-of-pocket expenses in the testing process, private insurance companies are being billed for their portion of the invoice.
Thanks to this grant, however, AVH will be able to bypass that sometimes cumbersome administrative step in ensuring testing.
“We don’t even have to worry about trying to find out who their insurance carrier is,” AVH CEO Dave Ressler said. “We can get in there, Pitkin County can order the tests, test them quickly and get the results back.”
Importantly, he continued, the grant money — committed to funding as many as 3,000 tests between now and the end of 2020 — can expand the county’s current testing capacity to include strategically targeted asymptomatic potential carriers, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said.
“It's really a game changer for us to be able to figure out how we can live with this virus and still work to prevent the spread,” he said. “What it will allow us to do is if we’re seeing sectors that are being impacted or we have concerns — for example, with first responders — it will allow us to focus some asymptomatic testing on groups where the contact tracing data is indicating we may want to do more asymptomatic testing with a defined population.”
The fund — spearheaded by Aspen locals Bob Hurst, Melony Lewis and Jerry Greenwald — has since its establishment in mid-March garnered more than $5 million from more than 100 donors, of which $2.4 million has been distributed, including the grant to AVH.
“[It’s] covering the whole range of social services, from health, rent relief, food, behavioral health care, legal services — all the things [from which] people are suffering because of what’s going on,” Hurst said.
The AVH grant was the direct result of conversations with county officials that began in April, he continued.
“One of the areas that seemed to us that was absolutely critical was testing — and obviously to the county as well and the AVH,” Hurst said. “It took awhile. There are different types of tests, and not all of them have the same efficacy. That has become more sophisticated and the hospital’s gotten access to state-of -the-art tests now.”
Indeed, AVH is now able to process COVID-19 tests inhouse in a proprietary laboratory, bringing the turnaround time for results from several days to about 45 minutes.
Still, testing has been so far limited to patients exhibiting symptoms — even if they’re identified as a contact during a case investigation. The additional almost half a million dollars in resources will allow public health officials to realize their preliminary plans for asymptomatic testing, which, as Peacock underscored Monday, will still focus on a containment strategy rather than a free-for-all model for the public.
“I think the strategy would probably be more around groupings that have had contact tracing versus just opening it up to anyone who’s been exposed,” he said. “It’s just really remarkable to be in a community that has such strategic thinking about this, and testing got honed in as one area that was really critical to our box-it-in strategy and being able to reopen sectors of our economy versus having a [broader based] suppression strategy.”