Municipal officials agreed to pay $214,917 to a Bergen County company for running coronavirus test sites in Paterson for one week in May.
Rochelle Park-based Vestibular Diagnostics, which ran testing sites at School 18, School 28, Eastside, and Kennedy high schools from May 16 through 22, was approved for the payment on June 30.
Previously, the City Council had refused to approve the payment. The previous contract amount was for $134,100. Some members argued doctor Stephen Conte, principal of Vestibular Diagnostics, over charged residents.
Conte’s firm charged $225 per person. Each charge included a $50 consultation and $175 lab fee, according to municipal records. The lab fee is 75 percent higher than what is set by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
Municipal officials have said Conte came to their rescue after another firm, entrusted to handle testing, completely failed.
Conte’s firm tested 2,267 patients. Most had their insurance billed for the Covid-19 tests. 997 lacked insurance. Fire chief Brian McDermott said an unexpected number of uninsured residents came to the testing sites. The $214,917 payment covers the uninsured residents who were tested at the sites.
148 people tested positive, according to Conte.
“I know that they did a great job and chief did a great job too,” said councilman Luis Velez.
Velez’s false praise was quickly rebutted by councilman Michael Jackson.
“It was an absolutely horrendous job that was done,” said Jackson. “Passing along undue praises is not acceptable; in fact, it’s embarrassing.”
Residents have complained about waiting weeks to get their test results. Mayor Andre Sayegh’s business administrator Kathleen Long last month could not say whether all patients had received their test results.
Jackson pointed out the severe delays in residents getting results.
“All the patients we tested were contacted via telephone and email. After multiple attempts if the patient was unreachable, we mailed them their results,” wrote Conte in a letter dated June 16 to the fire chief. “If all else failed, we personally hand delivered the test results ourselves.”
The Sayegh administration hired Conte’s firm through an emergency contract. However, councilman Flavio Rivera said the city did not follow the process to hire the company. He said services were rendered and the city has to pay the doctor.
“I’m just happy to hear that the services was rendered,” added councilwoman Ruby Cotton.
Long said the city will seek federal Cares Act reimbursement for the expenditure from the Passaic County government.
“Covid-19 money is taxpayer money. I think it was overpriced,” said councilman Shahin Khalique on June 30.
Council members approved the payment in a 6-3 vote.
Al Abdelaziz, Cotton, Velez, William McKoy, Lilisa Mimms, and Rivera voted in favor while Jackson, Khalique, and Maritza Davila voted against.
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