Huntsville Hospital CEO: Busiest hospital in the state, can’t get access to testing materials

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – As the number of positive cases of COVID-19 continues to increase, Huntsville Hospital faces a lack of sufficient testing supplies, CEO David Spillers said.

“Huntsville Hospital is the busiest hospital in the state of Alabama,” Spillers said. “We see more patients annually, than anybody else in the state including UAB and we can’t get access to that material to do testing here. I think that’s not right.”

As of the briefing at noon, there are 837 confirmed cases in the state, with 79 of those cases in Madison County and one death in Madison County.

During Monday’s Huntsville-area COVID-19 briefing, Spillers said 250 patients were tested Sunday. The hospital was forced to temporarily close their drive-through testing site Monday, because they haven’t received materials from their lab vendor. Spillers said they hope to reopen the site Tuesday.

Spillers said he is aware of delays in testing results for some patients, especially in the first days following the opening of the sample collecting sites. He said Huntsville Hospital has a large in-house lab that could do the actual lab testing work, but it needs some equipment and software from supplier Roche Labs.

But Spillers said when they’ve asked for those materials, Roche responded that it had received a government directive to ship equipment to national private labs first, then university labs. UAB has the ability to run labs in-house.

A spokesperson for Huntsville Hospital said Roche Laboratories reached out to the hospital Monday afternoon after Monday’s daily update from city leaders. The statement from Huntsville Hospital said Roche Laboratories “expressed confidence they would work to meet our testing needs.”

A Roche Laboratories spokesperson told WHNT News 19 that they understand the hospital’s frustration and will continue to work on the issue.

“We have been talking with the government specifically about the need in Huntsville and hope to have a solution in place in the very near future,” the spokesman said.

“We have been working In close consultation with the government on an allocation plan that supports that strategy by prioritizing access to large commercial labs with the necessary instruments in place to maximize testing capacities and provide the widest geographic coverage,” the spokesman said. “The next priority is hospitals and laboratories in geographic regions that are currently experiencing large-scale community spread of infection.”

Spillers said they have a good supply of personal protective equipment and commended health care professionals for risking their own health to take care of everyone else. Local businesses looking to help manufacture equipment are encouraged to reach out to the Huntsville/ Madison Chamber of Commerce.

In response to questions about issuing a shelter-in-place or curfew order, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said after discussions and monitoring the city over the weekend, there wasn’t a need for it.

“We were monitoring to see if that was the next step. If we have to get to that, we will do it. But at this point, it’s not something that we are going to use at this point. And we make that decision in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Public Health, with our two hospitals, and in conjunction with consultation with them,” Battle said.

Battle said he believes most people are following the guidelines set out in the state health order and encouraged everyone to continue to follow them so that we may get through the first surge of COVID-19 positive cases. He advised people that go grocery shopping to do so alone.

When asked about businesses that don’t comply with the health order, Battle said an officer will deliver a letter from the city attorney, giving them time to obey. If they don’t, they will be shut down. Violating the order is considered a misdemeanor that could come with a $25 to $500 fine.

Chad Emerson with Downtown Huntsville Inc. stressed the importance of supporting local businesses and their employees. He said over 20 restaurants are providing curbside service. Emerson added businesses are implementing tape lines to help guests understand what six feet looks like. He asked people to respect the lines and reminded that picking up food isn’t a time to regather. Guests should pick up their food and go home.

Huntsville-area briefings take place Monday through Saturday at noon.

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