Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration cut ties with a company – Sunrise Diagnostics of South Plainfield – over the weekend that was hired to handle coronavirus testing at four sites.
Officials were unhappy with the company’s performance because of staffing issues at the sites.
“Unfortunately, Sunrise Diagnostics overpromised and underdelivered. We called an audible and found another group to manage the sites,” said the mayor’s chief of staff Della Fischer on Tuesday.
Fischer was put in charge of the effort to get the testing sites running for residents.
Sayegh had promised four testing sites would be in operation on Friday. Half of them closed after a day of operation.
Members of the City Council scrutinized the arrangement between the administration and Sunrise Diagnostics last week.
Councilman Flavio Rivera at the time said the administration did not have a contract with the company and did not follow the usual process to hire the firm.
“We still don’t have details of what the issue was. All I heard was it didn’t work out,” said Rivera on Tuesday. Administration officials have not provided details about specific problems that led to the severing of ties. Officials said staffing issues and operational problems led to the decision to terminate the firm. “That’s the importance of doing an RFP to vet out the potential contractors to make sure they are responsible and have the capacity to do the job.”
Rivera said circumventing the process could jeopardize Cares Act funding that officials are banking in to pay for the tests. Tests are free to residents; however, the municipal government has to pay the provider.
Sayegh administration officials hired Vestibular Diagnostic of Rochelle Park to continue operating two of the four testing sites for residents on Saturday. The testing sites at John F. Kennedy High School and Eastside High School were operating over the weekend. Steve Conte, a medical doctor, is running the two sites.
Conte handled the testing for firefighters and police officers in early April.
“We took over. We have been running testing centers for a good part of three months now. We’re very organized,” said Lou Iandoli of Vestibular Diagnostic. His firm was brought in at the last minute to handle testing at both high schools.
Iandoli said a decision was made to focus on the two centrally located high schools. It takes a lot of manpower to operate four sites simultaneously, he said.
Fischer said School 18 and School 28 sites will be operational on Thursday.
Councilman Al Abdelaziz said his main goal is to ensure residents have access to testing sites. He said the administration acted quickly and rectified the situation by changing companies.
Fischer said 1,000 residents were tested over the past five days. She has previously said the city hired Sunrise Diagnostics at the recommendation of councilman Michael Jackson.
Jackson had a person tied to the company address the Board of Health last month. An official from Sunrise Diagnostics had said test results would be reported in 24 to 72 hours. On Monday afternoon, officials had just received 20 negative test results from the firm.
Multiple attempts to reach a representative for Sunrise Diagnostics were unsuccessful on Tuesday.
New Jersey’s third largest city, after failing to set up testing sites in March and April, has struggled to ramp up testing. In early May, Sayegh had two private doctors run testing sites in the Eastside and South Paterson neighborhoods. He had been under heavy criticism for not setting up local testing sites. After a chaotic start, the Eastside testing site at the old Barnert Hospital tested a large number of walk-up patients, highlighting the need to have sites where people without cars can go to get tested. But the private doctors charged residents for tests. The mayor’s second attempt came last week when he announced the four sites.
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