ALBION — In a turn of events, the Noble County Health Department now has to apply for a state grant to continue its free COVID-19 testing.

Cheryl Munson, the public health nurse at the Noble County Health Department, came before the county commissioners July 27 to ask for permission to proceed with the grant application.

Previously, the state had contracted with OptumServe to staff free COVID-19 testing sites, with Kendallville’s site at the Community Learning Center serving as the only one out of the DeKalb-LaGrange-Noble-Steuben-county area.

However, Munson said that won’t be the case after August, when the state's contract with OptumServe expires, and she and other county health departments have had to find another option fast. 

“We heard the very, very beginning of this literally about 10 days ago,” Munson said.

Now, she’s making sure that the CLC site will still be staffed and tests will be available come Sept. 1.

The grant that Munson is applying for is worth $100,000 and offered by the state.

Now, when OptumServe leaves, Munson wants to move in Vantage Point Consulting, which provides “accredited, high-quality disaster and crisis response training,” including training health care workers, according to its website.

Munson said Vantage Point’s president, Troy Jester, is someone she has worked closely with in the past and has had “zero problems” doing so.

“I don’t think this is going to be a problem with them being able to manage it,” Munson said.

That $100,000 will go to pay Vantage Point, Munson said the company’s pay is based off the service they deliver, not a reimbursement.

“(Jester) is very well aware that there are no extra dollars,” Munson said.

In fact, the $100,000 grant that counties can apply for wasn’t the original offer the state had. Before, it was half, at $50,000.

When that previous offer was on the table, Munson and other county health departments wrote a list of questions for the state, and a health representative from Allen County delivered the list. It was then that the offer doubled.

Testing itself shouldn’t be different from how it has normally been run, Munson said. The CLC has still offered to let the health department use the space, no matter if OptumServe is conducting tests or not.

“It’s wonderful that they’re allowing us to still use the building free of charge,” commissioner Anita Hess said.

“They have been a godsend,” Munson agreed.

Munson also commented on how important it is that Kendallville have a free testing site available. Without it, she has heard of people paying around $250 with insurance for a test at a hospital.

Plus, there aren’t any free testing sites in LaGrange, Steuben or DeKalb counties.

After this change, Whitley County has said they won’t participate in free testing, and LaGrange is on the fence, Munson said.

Kendallville’s testing site can potentially serve residents of those counties, though, since free testing sites in the state serve every Indiana resident.

And, Munson said, this is a crucial time to ensure everyone has access to COVID-19 testing.

“Especially with school going back into session, we have to have testing available,” Munson said. “We just have to.”

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