Premier Medical Laboratory Services in Greenville is the first commercial lab in South Carolina to be validated, via FDA and CDC protocols, to test for COVID-19 in fluid samples.
That’s an increasingly important job as the number of test kits ramps up and the number of people being tested for the coronavirus climbs along with it. But the growing number of tests is putting a lot of pressure on small labs like Premier, which are increasingly tasked with getting results back fast.
According to Austin Shirley, Premier’s director of commercial operations, the lab is turning around about 400 COVID-19 tests per day. The thing is, the lab has the capability to turn around 5,000 per day. What’s holding up that kind of potential is a lack of resources, he says.
Premier makes most of its income by billing insurance for doctor visits and hospital stays. In non-pandemic times, the lab tests more typical samples like blood and wellness panel and cancer screenings – all of which effectively have been put on hiatus while Premier runs CIVID samples through its array of machines.
But as hospital beds fill up, insurance billings and claims are escalating, which means longer processing times on the administrative end. So Premier’s income is taking a hit as payments are coming in more slowly, say Shirley and the company’s vice president of compliance, Michael Conroy.
Both say Premier is waiting on federal and state government help to get it past its current output point; and that for now, it has to operate where it is in order to keep doing anything at all.
Shirley says Premier is not taking new business from its usual sources. It’s honoring existing accounts, but with its hands full of COVID tests, Premier is partnering with other labs to take more non-COVIDwork.
“Right now we’re prioritizing South Carolina hospitals,” Shirley says. “Above just doing that, we’re prioritizing the medical staff and the patients that are admitted to those hospitals.”
It’s a way for Premier to keep things running, but the number of tests will increase, and so will the number of cases of COVID-19. By the end of April, DHEC estimates South Carolina will have seen more than 8,000 cumulative diagnoses of the disease.
Scott Morgan is the Upstate Multimedia Reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on Twitter @ByScottMorgan