An Embry Health COVID-19 testing site in Tolleson closed abruptly last month, only to be replaced with a Maricopa County GoGetTested site.
The Embry Health site, located at Tolleson Veterans Park, 8611 W. Van Buren Street, served Tolleson and parts of Phoenix. It was the third Embry Health COVID-19 testing site to operate in Tolleson since August 2020.
After Embry Health’s first two sites closed to make space for Tolleson Union High School bus lanes and Little League games in Veterans Park, respectively, Embry Health CEO Raymond Embry said he thought the new location tucked behind Veterans Park in a dirt lot would be a secure place to serve the community.
“We were basically told that even though it’s hidden and it’s behind the park, it was a location that was available,” Embry said.
“It was not being used, it was not going to be used, and as long as the pandemic lasted, we could stay there.”
When Embry Health employees tried to renew the provider’s facility use agreement before its August expiration, the city of Tolleson said it would not renew the agreement, Embry said.
In talks with the city, Embry Health employees were told that the parking lot space was needed for Little League overflow parking, Embry said.
On Aug. 31, the same day Embry Health’s site closed, however, the city announced the opening of a new GoGetTested COVID-19 testing location through a partnership with Maricopa County in the same dirt lot behind Veterans Park.
“We are excited to announce that the city of Tolleson has expanded its strong partnership with Maricopa County Department of Public Health,” said Pilar Sinawi, Tolleson spokesperson, in a statement.
“Moving forward, the two agencies have coordinated to provide COVID-19 testing at Tolleson Veterans Park at 8611 W. Van Buren,” the statement said.
The GoGetTested site is open from 7 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.
Sinawi did not clarify why the Embry Health testing site was replaced with the GoGetTested site but emphasized the Maricopa County collaboration.
“The city of Tolleson was expanding on its partnership with Maricopa County from providing several COVID vaccination events to now include COVID testing as part of those services,” she said.
Embry said that the city of Tolleson was not paying for Embry Health’s operations, as all the Embry Health sites in the state are funded through insurance fees and reimbursements received through the Health Resources & Services Administration.
Embry said the city only provided funds for the office pod, generator and fuel at the testing site behind Veterans Park. In talks with the city to keep the site open, Embry Health offered to pay for those expenses because many of the Embry Health sites across the state are self-sufficient.
The new Maricopa County testing site will not cost the city anything, said Sonia Singh, a Maricopa County spokeswoman.
“Federal CARES Act money funds these testing and vaccine events. Maricopa County contracts with vendors to provide testing services at no cost to the host city,” the spokesperson said.
Embry added, “It seems like a disappointing use of resources having to move this equipment and locations, etc., around, especially if another vendor is interested. There is so much vacant land in Tolleson and in the West Valley, why not put them at another dirt lot and add to the testing capacity for the region?”
According to Maricopa County’s COVID-19 dashboard, Tolleson is recording around 298.43 positive cases of the virus per 100,000 people, indicating a “high transmission” rate in the community.
Embry said he learned of Tolleson’s new site opening through a Facebook post. He said the lack of initial clarity concerns him, as many in the community may not know there is a testing location available in Tolleson.
“It’s about transparency, communication and being able to offer a network,” Embry said. “This is a public health emergency. This is patient care. These are patient lives.”