Municipal officials rejected a measure to pay a Bergen County firm $134,100 for briefly running testing sites in Paterson.
City Council members said the firm, Vestibular Diagnostics, which charged $225 per patient for coronavirus tests, overcharged. Consultation for each patient cost $50. Lab fee for each test was $175, a charge 75 percent higher than what is set by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
“It’s clear they were overcharging the residents of Paterson,” said councilman Shahin Khalique.
“$225 per test when other places are $150 or less,” said councilman Flavio Rivera.
“It is irresponsible,” added councilman Al Abdelaziz. He described what happened as an example of “mismanagement.”
Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration was blamed for failing to vet the firm. His administration also failed to present the City Council a contract.
“I agree the cart came before the horse,” said law director Farrah Irving. She said a contract should have been in place before the firm was allowed to run the test sites.
Sayegh’s business administrator Kathleen Long and fire chief Brian McDermott last week said the 596 people screened by the firm all received their test results.
Council president Maritza Davila and Khalique pushed back on their assertion on Tuesday night. Both said they know people who were tested and are still waiting for results.
Khalique said his cousin took the test weeks ago and is still waiting on results. Davila said she knows a person, who was screened at Eastside High School on May 18, and is still waiting on results.
“People weren’t giving them the right information,” said McDermott. He said that made delivering the test results to people difficult.
Councilman Luis Velez said some people gave bad emails and phone numbers.
“This company did not provide information and phone number to anyone that went there,” added Khalique.
As it became apparent the council would reject the payment, Irving said not paying the firm would likely lead to litigation.
Abdelaziz said a court case could mean the city pays the firm and incurs legal expenses. He said a lengthy court battle could lead to local taxpayers picking up the tab. Right now, he said, the testing expenses can be covered through the federal Cares Act funding. Those funds expire at the end of the year.
“Going to court doesn’t mean you lose. There is a judge sitting there. He will weigh all the options,” said Khalique.
Khalique said the administration is using “scare tactics” by telling council members rejecting the measure will lead to a court fight.
Council members rejected the payment in a 5-4 vote.
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