Since its formation in spring 2020, nonprofit Crush the Curve Idaho scored over $6 million in state contracts to test vulnerable populations and try to slow the pandemic’s spread.
Crush the Curve, founded by former GOP gubernatorial candidate and developer Tommy Ahlquist, is funded by private businesses to expand testing and vaccine access across the state. In addition to completing testing for employers with outbreaks and the general public, the organization also landed two contracts with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare since last year.
Testing for employers with outbreaks
The first contract, which began in June 2020, provided mass testing for employers with COVID-19 outbreaks at their work sites at the request of Public Health Districts. The second contract provided weekly testing for long-term care and skilled nursing facilities across the state. As of the end of February, the state used funds from the federal government to pay Crush the Curve $6,311,445 for both contracts.
DHW spokesperson Zachary Clark said the state turned to Crush the Curve because public heath officials across the state didn’t have the resources to go out into the field and test Idahoans on the scale needed to track spread.
“DHW typically doesn’t deploy staff out into the field to respond to clusters/outbreaks; that’s the role of the public health districts,” Clark said in an email. “This contract was stood up because none of the (public health districts) had the capacity nor infrastructure to deploy specimen collection staff or coordinate a mass testing event, among other efforts.”
Crush the Curve’s first contract for testing at employers with COVID-19 outbreaks was for up to $1.35 million from mid-2020 through the end of the year. But, Crush the Curve only deployed 11 times during this period and charged the state $497,685 between August and December.
Tina Upson, Crush the Curve’s executive director, said employers around the state didn’t have enough information about the service, leaving it underutilized. This program was helpful for food processing plants, dairies and other essential operations prone to outbreaks throughout the pandemic, she said.
“I think it could have been used a little more,” Upson said. “The way the process worked was it was a request that would come in and we’d have to work with the health district. Maybe not all health districts were aware or (employers) themselves were aware that something like (the testing) was something they could ask for.”
What did Crush the Curve charge?
Under the contract, the state paid for Crush the Curve to deploy to Southwest District Health 8 times, Central District Health twice and South Central District Health once. For every testing event, the state paid Crush the Curve $12,500 for up to six staffers and $6,000 for every extra day required. The contract required the state to pay for travel expenses of $250 per employee for testing events 150 miles outside of the Treasure Valley.
Additional administrative staff cost $250 per day per person and extra medical staff cost $500 per day per person. Crush the Curve charged $95 per test when the test subject’s insurance declined to cover it, which included the collection kit, testing and lab processing of the sample. DHW said insurance covers lab testing fees up to $80 and the rest was an administrative processing fee. If insurance does cover the test, then DHW only needed to pay Crush the Curve $15 to cover the administrative fee.
Not everyone who needed testing through their employer spoke English. To assist non-English speakers, the contract paid Crush the Curve $250 per person per day to provide on-site interpreters to help with explaining testing and information gathering.
Upson said Crush the Curve saw a need for translators in almost every testing event they conducted through the contract. She said the first time the nonprofit deployed to a food processing plant when an employer hired them, the demand for translation services surprised her staff. Even though Crush the Curve had forms translated into Spanish, Upson said her staff quickly learned many people in need of testing weren’t literate in Spanish and they needed interpretation instead.
“It’s not lost on us that a significant percentage of Idaho is a population that would need Spanish speakers in order to go through the process,” she said. “It’s not that they speak no English, but it’s nerve wracking and this is a virus that has shut down the world so being able to speak in their native language about what’s going on is important.”
Weekly tests for long-term care facilities
Crush the Curve’s second contract to provide testing at long-term care facilities is still ongoing.
Starting in mid-September, Crush the Curve signed a contract with DHW to help long-term care facilities and other skilled nursing homes to meet a requirement from the federal government for weekly testing. The contract is for up to $11.2 million and so far the state has paid Crush the Curve $5.8 million. The contract will expire at the end of June.
Upson estimated by the end of February Crush the Curve had surpassed 80,000 tests as part of the contract. Crush the Curve enrolled 221 long term care facilities in its program through this contract.
“With that program, we’ve been able to make a huge impact,” Upson said. “That’s a very at risk group like we all know and so to be able to play any part in giving them tools they needed to stay safe as possible was really important.”
For this contract, Crush the Curve could work with up to 336 long-term care facilities to provide testing kits for weekly tests, run the labs, and train staff to test themselves. If there is a positive result, residents and employees of the facility are tested until results come back negative.
Processing tests also costs $95 for this contract and Crush the Curve charged the state $2,800 per facility to provide the “on-boarding” training and setting up the system to track results.
The state vaccinated residents of these facilities and their employees against COVID-19 in some of the earliest priority groups. Even with the vaccines, Upson said the federal government is still requiring testing of staff members to make sure the disease isn’t spreading among vulnerable Idahoans.