Advocate Aurora plans drive-thru COVID-19 testing at several locations

Will launch testing site at St. Luke's in 'the near future'

Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee.
Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee.

Last updated on March 19th, 2020 at 12:43 pm

Advocate Aurora Health is preparing to establish drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites at most of its Wisconsin locations, beginning with its flagship hospital in Milwaukee.

Dr. Nkem Iroegbu, chief medical officer of Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, said the health system is preparing to open the St. Luke’s drive-thru testing operation in “the near future,” possibly early next week.

Dr. Nkem Iroegbu

It will be the system’s first drive-thru testing location in Wisconsin. Following St. Luke’s, the health system will open a drive-thru location in Green Bay, Iroegbu told reporters Wednesday.

Once operational, drive-thru testing will be available only to individuals who have pre-registered through an Advocate Aurora virtual visit or its hotline.

Drive-thru testing sites are popping up across the country, in the parking lots of both health care facilities and large big box stores, as a way to increase testing capacity while mitigating concerns of exposure to the virus within clinics and hospitals.

Froedtert South began offering drive-thru testing at its Pleasant Prairie hospital on Tuesday, which is available only by appointment. At the testing site, medical professionals in personal protective equipment are conducting nasal swab testing. Those with mild symptoms are sent home and are required to self-quarantine while awaiting test results, which take two to three days. Other treatment recommendations are made for those with more advanced symptoms, the health system said. All testing is reported to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

As concerns grow nationwide about the availability of testing supplies, Iroegbu said he believes Advocate Aurora has adequate supplies for its current demand.

“But we anticipate that demand will rise,” he said.

While the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene has increased its capacity for COVID-19 testing over the past week, DHS said the number of testing specimens being received far exceeds its daily capacity. To conserve supplies, WSLH and DHS have begun prioritizing specific tiers of cases, including those who are critically ill, those who have knowingly been exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 patient and health care workers. Test requests that don’t meet those criteria are sent to other labs in the state and country, which will have longer wait times.

ACL Laboratories, which is owned by Advocate Aurora, is in the process of finishing testing validation and training for COVID-19. Once operational, ACL Laboratories will be able to perform at least 400 tests daily with results back in fewer than 24 hours, the system said.

Children’s Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Diagnostic Laboratories at Froedtert Hospital are among the first hospitals in the state to test for the virus in their own facilities, rather than sending samples to one of the two public health labs in the state.

Meanwhile, concerns continue to grow over whether the state has enough ICU beds, ventilators and other supplies to meet the demand of those who contract the virus and become seriously ill.

Dr. John Raymond, president and chief executive officer of the Medical College of Wisconsin, laid out a scenario in which 5% of Wisconsin’s 6 million residents contracted the virus, which he said is a conservative estimate. With about 20% of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization, the state could potentially have 60,000 patients in need of hospital beds, with only 12,300 beds currently available across the state.

“If that happens, we’re going to overwhelm the capacity of our health systems to be able to accommodate that number of critically ill patients,” Raymond said during the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s webinar for business leaders on Tuesday.

Iroegbu said he doesn’t anticipate Advocate Aurora will have a shortage, but it continues to assess the situation based on national and local trends.

“I feel that we are ready for what we anticipate we will see, but again we will keep reassessing that on a daily basis,” he said.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.