Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has sued a COVID-19 testing company, saying it failed to provide some test results or provided falsified or inaccurate results to Minnesotans.
Ellison on Wednesday announced he filed a consumer protection lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court against Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Laboratory, both based in Illinois, after getting "numerous complaints" from Minnesotans.
The attorney general alleges the companies took advantage of people's urgency to get tested for COVID amid the recent surge caused by the highly contagious omicron variant, which has made testing appointments and at-home tests hard to come by.
“When Minnesotans and people from around the country tested with these companies to keep themselves and their families safe, they trusted they would get correct results on time," Ellison said in a statement. "I’m holding these companies accountable that sent back false or inaccurate results, when they sent them back at all, for deceiving Minnesotans and undermining the public’s trust in testing."
Center for COVID Control began operating eight free walk-in rapid antigen and PCR testing sites in Minnesota in the fall of 2021, including in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Virginia, Eagan and Rochester, the lawsuit says. And starting in December 2021, Minnesotans began reporting not getting test results from the company's lab, Doctors Clinical Laboratory, or getting negative test results without submitting a sample for testing.
"Even when Minnesota consumers do receive untimely test result reports from defendants, the reports are often deceptively riddled with inaccurate and false information including listing the wrong test type and false dates and times for when samples were collected from consumers to be tested," the complaint said.
Reports of 'chaos' at lab
Former employees of Center for COVID Control said the company could initially handle the number of tests but its processing center did not expand its capacity as the company opened more testing sites, including in Minnesota, Ellison said. The company operates more than 300 locations nationwide.
One former employee described things as "chaos," with the lab receiving samples that were stuffed into trash bags or strewn across the office floor, the release said. Former employees said they'd find samples in bags that were well over 48 hours old, so they were told to falsify dates of receipt and lie to patients about their tests being inconclusive or negative when their samples had actually not been tested.
The lawsuit alleges Center for COVID Control also failed to submit test results to the Minnesota Department of Health.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office alleges the company violated the consumer fraud act and the foreign corporations act, as well as engaged in deceptive trade practice and falsely advertised.
Ellison's office is seeking injunctive relief, civil penalties for each violation, fees and restitution, and disgorgement for consumers.
"Even though these were free sites, there are out-of-pocket losses for Minnesota consumers," Assistant Attorney General Jason Pleggenkuhle said during a news conference on Wednesday. "Lots of consumers we've heard from had to go obtain tests elsewhere, sometimes paying for tests elsewhere, missing work because they can't show up at work. So there's additional restitution for consumers at issue in the case."
Ellison said his office is investigating "all avenues for accountability" with this case when asked if an additional criminal investigation is pending.
This isn't the first time Center for COVID Control and Doctors Clinical Laboratory has made headlines in recent weeks.
Block Club Chicago reports the company's lab has been cited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the companies are being investigated by various state agencies, with numerous people telling the publication they got negative results from them but tested positive at other testing sites.
The Better Business Bureau also said it is investigating Center for COVID Control after complaints.
Meanwhile, Center for COVID Control (CCC) in a news release on Jan. 13 said it was pausing operations until Jan. 22 due to high demand for tests and limited staffing resources, stating it is "determined to provide accurate, trusted testing for our thousands of customers."
The company said staffing issues have led to delays on reporting test results.
“Center for Covid Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate and most compliant manner. Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven't been able to meet all our commitments," CCC founder and CEO Aleya Siyaj said in the release. "We’ve made this difficult decision to temporarily pause all operations, until we are confident that all collection sites are meeting our high standards for quality."
Bring Me The News has reached out to Center for COVID Control for comment on the lawsuit.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office is encouraging Minnesotans who visited the testing site and have concerns about their experience or didn't receive their results to submit a complaint to the attorney general's office here or by calling 651-296-3353.