CHICAGO — A Chicago-area company that operated hundreds of COVID-19 pop-up testing sites across the United States is being fined in two states.
The Center for COVID Control and its lab, Doctors Clinical Lab, which are based out of suburban Rolling Meadows, came under intense scrutiny this winter and spring after Block Club reports revealed widespread concerns among customers and government agencies with its tests. It operated more than 300 pop-up testing sites, and its lab was reimbursed more than $170 million from the federal government for testing and treatments.
Doctors Clinical Lab has been cited at the highest level by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The Center for COVID control closed amid the scrutiny.
The Washington Attorney General’s Office sued the Center for COVID Control in late January, alleging the company provided “invalid, false and delayed” COVID-19 test results, or no results at all, and it had “unlawful practices,” including storing tests in garbage bags for more than a week and backdating old samples. The company’s employees marked customers as “uninsured” even if they had insurance, sending the testing bill to the government, and were told to lie to customers, according to the lawsuit.
Now, the company has settled the suit, agreeing to a consent decree that bans it from business in Washington, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Friday. Owners Akbar Syed and Aleya Siyaj must pay $42,200 as part of the agreement, according to court documents.
“As a result of our case, the owners of the Center for COVID Control are permanently barred from doing business in Washington, after operating sham COVID testing sites,” Ferguson wrote on Facebook.
If the Center for COVID Control violates the agreement, it could face fines of up to $25,000 per violation, according to court documents.
The consent decree does not apply to Doctors Clinical Lab.
Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is also fining Syed and Siyaj, it announced last week. Syed and Siyaj must pay $22,500 in that case.
Wisconsin officials said the fines were related to “misleading advertising” for COVID-19 tests, according to a news release. The couple’s Center for COVID Control said it would provide test results to customers within 48 hours, but customers did not receive results in that time frame, according to the Wisconsin agency.
“It’s unfair to consumers when businesses make promises they are unable to follow through on, but even more so when that business involves public health,” Lara Sutherlin, the agency’s administrator for Division of Trade and Consumer Protection, said in a news release. “It’s likely that many individuals who received tests from Center for COVID Control were attracted by its commitment to results within 48 hours. Dropping the ball on a service as vital as COVID-19 tests is unacceptable to consumers.”
The Center for COVID Control has faced other woes.
The company was warned by California’s attorney general, was also sued by the attorney generals in Minnesota and Oregon and had its Rolling Meadows office raided by the FBI. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office investigated complaints about the company.
The Better Business Bureau, a non-government agency, also received complaints about the business, with customers saying they didn’t get test results, the results were inconclusive or they paid for expedited results and did not get them in the time promised, a spokesperson said.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which regulate and certify labs, cited Doctors Clinical Lab for “immediate jeopardy”-level deficiencies — the highest level — in three areas: general laboratory systems, analytic systems and laboratories performing high complexity testing.
The company closed its pop-up testing sites shortly after Block Club revealed numerous concerns from customers about missing or delayed test results. Former employees told Block Club tests were left around the office in bags, unrefrigerated, for days at a time and they sought reimbursement from the government even when customers had private insurance.
A company spokesman has previously denied former workers’ allegations. The company could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
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