Hartford HealthCare Launches Mobile Testing Program, Targets Underserved Areas | Connecticut Public Radio
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Hartford HealthCare Launches Mobile Testing Program, Targets Underserved Areas

Apr 29, 2020

Hartford HealthCare has launched a mobile coronavirus testing program in partnership with the city of Hartford that will make it easier to bring testing to people who need it.

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A minivan full of doctors, nurses and testing supplies pulled up outside The Open Hearth, a shelter in Hartford’s South End for men experiencing homelessness. In just a couple of hours on Wednesday morning, all 90 men living there and 15 staff members were tested for the coronavirus.

“We want to be able to provide them with what everybody else wants, in a population that sometimes is a tad more compromised than other populations, when you have 90 people all in one facility, really trying for the most part to follow the rules, stay in place unless they’re going to work, do the things they’re supposed to do,” said Marilyn Rossetti, The Open Hearth’s executive director. 

Rossetti grew particularly concerned after learning that 146 of 397 asymptomatic people at Boston’s Pine Street Inn, a shelter for men, tested positive for the coronavirus in early April.

“I think this is just another way to be able to ease their tensions because it is, you know, ‘Who has it? Who doesn’t?’ And for the people who do, we can take care of it.”

A Hartford HealthCare worker administers a coronavirus test to a resident of The Open Hearth, a shelter for men experiencing homelessness in Hartford.
Credit Courtesy: Hartford HealthCare

Hartford HealthCare plans to create multiple pop-up testing sites in the next few weeks in the North and South End neighborhoods where more people use public transportation or don’t have access to a car to get to one of the city’s drive-up testing sites.

“We’ve been working very hard at expanding our testing capabilities in creating our mobile capacity that we will be rolling out every day in different locations so that we can increase access and bring our care, bring our services, bring testing to the people who need it most, most conveniently and where it’ll make the greatest differences,” said Jeffrey Flaks, president and CEO of Hartford HealthCare.

Sarah Lewis, vice president of Health Equity with Hartford HeathCare, noted a stark 15-year difference in life expectancy in Hartford’s North End compared to the center of West Hartford.

“The normal that we came from is definitely not the normal that we want to return to,” Lewis said. “That means rethinking, redesigning, recalibrating the way that we think about health care delivery.”

Lewis said the mobile testing is one way to start to address health disparities amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We want to keep stepping up. We want to keep showing up, and we want to tell everyone who works in our communities, who lives in our communities that we see them and we need them,” Lewis said, “and we’re here to protect, prevent and work with you going forward to survive this crisis.”

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the mobile sites can help address health disparities for communities of color and stop the spread of COVID-19 within the city. As another alternative for those without cars, the city has established a ride service to a testing site at Charter Oak Health Center, among other locations throughout the city.

“We need to make sure that we are removing barriers to access to those tests and that we are placing testing facilities in ways that maximize access,” Bronin said.

Hartford County is the third-most infected area within the state, behind Fairfield and New Haven counties, but ranks second in coronavirus-related deaths. As of Wednesday night, the Department of Health reported 774 deaths in Fairfield County, 760 in Hartford County and 493 in New Haven County. When the mortality rate was calculated using the racial breakdown of Connecticut’s total population, it showed that Black residents have died at a higher rate.

“A city with a lot of people of color and a lot of people without access to vehicles, we probably should’ve been doing things better, faster, sooner … there were a lot of moving parts that went into today,” Rossetti said.

In the past few weeks, Hartford HealthCare has increased its testing capacity from 120-140 people per day to 2,000-2,500 people daily because of a partnership with Quest Diagnostics, more testing supplies and personnel, and improving how it has addressed the rapid spread of the virus throughout the state.

Bronin said they’re working with Hartford HealthCare and community organizations to establish more permanent testing sites and also identify locations like The Open Hearth where people are likely to face challenges getting tested on their own.