County hopes to bring back COVID-19 testing site

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Local officials are working to get a site in Dubois County again for anyone who wants to be tested for COVID-19.

County and Jasper officials have both agreed on a lease for the Ruxer Golf Course building and parking to become that site.

Health officials strongly believe that OptumServe will open a testing site there, but they do not yet have that guarantee.

“I have not gotten a guarantee yet,” Shawn Werner of the Dubois County Health Department told the Dubois County Commissioners Tuesday, “but the state is going to do everything they can to get them back here.”

The state hired OptumServe to do testing across the state, including setting up testing sites. The company was at the National Guard Armory in Jasper for just over a month, and anyone who wanted a test for COVID-19 could get one there. That included asymptomatic people, which are people who are not showing symptoms, and those who simply wanted to know. But the facility closed June 9 to become a mobile testing unit to go around to long-term care facilities, Werner said.

Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center has a testing site, but it is only for symptomatic people. So anyone else who wants a test has to go a distance, such as Gibson County or even Indianapolis, Werner said as examples.

When the armory’s OptumServe site closed, Memorial saw a large increase in the number of people coming for testing, Werner said. So the hospital asked if there was a way to get OptumServe to have a testing site in the county again. The company is not interested in going back to the armory in the summer because it is not air conditioned, Werner said.

So Werner called around and learned that the Ruxer Golf Course had been closed. He reached out to the city about using the former golf course’s building and parking lot, and the city was receptive. The Jasper Board of Public Works and Safety approved the lease contract Tuesday.

“We are really working hard to get this here to help you alleviate the stress on Memorial Hospital, but at this point we haven’t gotten the guarantees,” Emergency Management Director Tammy Humbert said. “But at least, when he does get that, we’ll be ready to go right away.”

The commissioners also approved the lease agreement Tuesday. In the agreement, the county will cover the cost for utilities and maintenance, Werner said; the city is not charging rent. OptumServe would be responsible with taking care of the facility. When the time comes for the facility to close, the county will be responsible for making sure the facility is back in the same condition it was in before OptumServe came in.

“We’re trying. We want to be a good partner with the hospital,” Commissioner Chad Blessinger said. “But there is still a chance that this fails and they don’t come back.”

State officials realize there needs to be a testing site in Dubois County, Werner said.

“We don’t just service Dubois County; we service probably seven or eight counties around us, because they don’t have the facilities that we have here,” he said. “If you look at the map of testing facilities, there’s a void in this area. So they recognize that now after we pointed it out to them numerous times.

“I think the state realizes that they need to get something opened up here,” Werner added. “And we’re just waiting on Optum to do the walkthrough to make sure that the facility is going to work.”

Werner checked OptumServe’s qualifications for a facility, and he said the site meets the qualifications.

Humbert and Werner feel confident that OptumServe will place a testing site back in the county. The just don’t have the guarantee yet. “This is just a matter of the state giving Optum the approval to come back into the county with a stationary site,” Werner said.

The state is contacting OptumServe representatives to arrange a walkthrough of the site. Werner hopes that walkthrough will be done in the next day or two.

The commissioners also:

• Approved creating a full-time pretrial services position for the county community corrections department. The position is being paid for with a grant from the Indiana Department of Court Services. The grant provides funding to cover the salary and benefits for the position, training and travel expenses. The state agency has also provided $25,000 for defense counsel to be present at a person’s initial hearing. The funding must be renewed each year. But since the state has been heavily encouraging pretrial services, Corrections Director Megan Durlauf expects funding to be provided each year; if it’s not, she will look for other ways to cover the position. County funding does not cover any corrections positions, she said.




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