BayCare Leads the Way in Drive-Thru Testing for COVID-19

May 28, 2020

After more than two months providing drive-thru test collection sites for COVID-19 across West Central Florida, BayCare has screened nearly 20,000 individuals, including testing 15,000 of them for COVID-19. As spring turns into summer, the not-for-profit health system anticipates continuing the service to meet the needs of the community.

BayCare was the first local health system to launch drive-thru testing sites across Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, starting in March. Over time, BayCare has adjusted its locations and partnered with others, such as at the Hillsborough County-run site at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, to facilitate testing access for thousands of more people.

“We believe testing for COVID-19 plays a crucial role in the response to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Jim Cote, senior vice president for Ambulatory Services at BayCare. “That’s why we took action early on and launched the drive-thru concept to test as many people as we could throughout our community.” 

Through the drive-thru testing model, BayCare collects COVID-19 specimen from patients without leaving their cars, allowing medical providers to test everyone safely and efficiently and also conserve personal protection equipment. 

Multiple departments across BayCare have worked to staff the sites including Urgent Care, Laboratories, Imaging and Fitness Centers, among others. 

“We committed to this from day one and it’s made a tremendous difference in the community,” said Cote. “This effort truly demonstrates what BayCare is all about.” 

BayCare initially offered drive-thru testing sites at seven BayCare Urgent Care locations. The system has now consolidated those sites to three locations: BayCare Outpatient Center (Carillon) in St. Petersburg, Gulf High School in New Port Richey and Bartow Regional Medical Center in Bartow. Sites at Carillon and Gulf High School are open weekdays, 8 to 11 a.m. The drive-thru site in Bartow is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 8 to 11 a.m.

BayCare first worked with the Florida Department of Health and private laboratories to process specimens. BayCare has since developed its own test administering capacity and is now capable of processing most of its drive-thru testing at its Esoteric Laboratory, a sophisticated in-house molecular facility. Turnaround times have improved significantly since the beginning. Tests processed through the Esoteric Laboratory can turn around results in 24 to 36 hours. 

“Everyone has been involved in this effort, from our CEO and CMO to volunteers,” said Donna Lynch, director for BayCare Laboratories, who also manages the COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites. “Our team doesn’t have to do this, but they proudly show up every day, knowing the risks and what’s involved, to serve our patients with compassion and respect. It’s inspiring.”  

BayCare is testing patients with a doctor’s referral or those who are symptomatic to reserve limited testing supply for those who are most at risk. Individuals who show up without a doctor’s referral are screened at the sites based on guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those who meet criteria have a specimen collected for testing.

“BayCare’s mission is to improve the health of all we serve through community-owned services that set the standards for excellence in patient care,” said Dr. Nathan Keith Waldrep, MD, chief medical officer for BayCare Urgent Care and medical director for Telehealth. “Providing access to COVID-19 testing across our community was a testament of that mission and what we do every single day to make life better for our community.” 

BayCare could not do this alone. Community partners including law enforcement and government officials have played a critical role in making this initiative a success. Gulf High School has also been crucial in Pasco County where they lease their space to help run the drive-thru smoothly. 

“We are thankful to our community partners for their continued support and helping us provide resources, supplies, staffing and other needs,” said Cote. “We also want to thank community businesses that bring food, coffee and beverages to the team every day. We feel appreciated and that we’re in this together.” 

From the start, BayCare has been committed to make testing available to the community while overcoming hurdles with supply line interruptions and test processing capacity.  As a leading health system in the region, BayCare anticipates continuing the service in the near term based on community needs 

“We’re going to be there for the community,” said Lynch. “We chose to step up and do our part in a time of need. I’m thrilled about that because our mission to improve the health of all we serve is truly our mission, and humanity at work is not just a slogan, it’s actually something that we put into practice.”