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Dogwood Health Trust forms partnership for broad Covid testing across the region

Sanesco CEO said Hector Romero, said a new COVID-19 testing facility will devote 10 percent of testing capacity for underserved populations in Western North Carolina. Sanesco CEO said Hector Romero, said a new COVID-19 testing facility will devote 10 percent of testing capacity for underserved populations in Western North Carolina.

Dogwood Health Trust is partnering with Sanesco International Inc. to launch a new diagnostic testing laboratory, CommunityLab, dedicated to Western North Carolina community testing. CommunityLab will allocate most of its resources to support the demand for Covid-19 testing in the region, including 10 percent of testing to serve the uninsured, as well as rural, underserved and minority populations.

“This is unlike any other lab. It will be dedicated to WNC,” said Hector Romero, Chairman and CEO of Sanesco. “Western North Carolina is our home. We live here. We work here. Our kids went to school here. I am passionate about helping our community get through this pandemic. Providing reliable, fast, and accurate Covid-19 testing at our lab will not only help keep our friends, families, and neighbors safer, but it can provide more accessible testing options for the underserved and vulnerable populations who have been disproportionately affected.”
Developing a meaningful response to Covid-19 and its impacts to the regional economy has been front and center for Dogwood, the nonprofit charged with distributing $1.5 billion from the sale of Mission hospital to HCA. Improving access to jobs and supporting economic development in the region is one of Dogwood’s four key strategic priority areas. The health trust's investment in Sanesco helps accomplish both purposes, supporting a laboratory expansion that is dedicated to serving WNC and that will result in the creation of some 25 new jobs within the next two years.
“We are bringing jobs that would otherwise be in other parts of the state,” said George Renfro, a Dogwood board member who chairs its Impact Investing Committee.
CommunityLab will process Covid-19 test results from private and public organizations across the region. “There is currently a capacity issue that may only worsen in the coming months,” said Jeff Schmitt, PhD, Chief Science Officer at Sanesco. Dr. R.W. Watkins, Chief Medical Officer/Lab Director at Sanesco, said that the “lag time for getting testing back is so long it sometimes makes test results worthless.”
“When we saw the difficulty in obtaining access to fast, reliable testing in the early days of Covid-19, we knew we needed a home-grown solution that was dedicated to the health and well-being of people here in Western North Carolina,” said Renfro, “Sanesco was already exploring innovative ways to meet this need, so the timing of this investment was perfect. The fact that they will prioritize our region and provide free testing to uninsured individuals speaks volumes about their commitment to others.”
The testing turnaround time at CommunityLab will be 24 hours or less and they are prepared to operate 24/7 should the need arise, though currently the plan is to start with one shift.
Testing will be open to anyone regardless of symptoms. All Covid-19 tests run at CommunityLab are approved under Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
CommunityLab plans to offer a variety of testing options, including rapid antigen testing via nasal swab collection, RT-PCR testing with options for either nasopharyngeal (NP) swab or saliva specimen collection and antibody testing to determine if a person might have developed an immune response against a pathogen or not. The Yale School of Public Health recently granted authorization for CommunityLab to perform their SalivaDirect™ assay, a saliva-based diagnostic SARS-CoV-2 test that is simpler, less expensive, and less invasive than traditional nasal swabbing.
“To have been invited is a great boon,” said Schmitt. He explained that saliva testing is more accurate and less invasive than nasal swabbing and can be performed by the patient.
Romero said, “Lab testing is key to reducing the spread of Covid, and our mission to improve patient quality of life is more important now than ever as stress, mental health, and economic and financial concerns are at an all-time high amidst this global pandemic.”
CommunityLab will manage mobile testing site events with same day results available to the public. Additionally, CommunityLab aims to partner with local businesses, hospitals, urgent cares, long-term care facilities, healthcare providers, faith-based organizations, research institutions, schools, and universities and can customize services such as medical courier pick-up or Spanish translators to meet each organization’s unique needs.