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This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.

Ascension St. Joseph is located at 5000 W. Chambers St. in the Sherman Park neighborhood. (File Photo by Andrea Waxman)

Ascension St. Joseph Hospital has opened a free mobile testing center to help residents navigate the fast-moving COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Patricia Golden, the primary care medical director of Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin who is leading the system’s mobile testing efforts, said the hospital system has been working for weeks to launch the center.

“We are there for the St. Joseph community,” she said of the center, which opened Tuesday. “I want people to feel reassured they have the resources they need if they truly need it.”

There are 295 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Milwaukee County, with three deaths, according to data from the county. In addition, news of a fourth death in the city’s Midtown neighborhood was tweeted by the medical examiner’s office around 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik announced this week that most of the COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee were on the North Side, and that middle-aged African American men were the victims.

On Wednesday, Ald. Khalif Rainey, who represents District 7 on the Common Council, called on Ascension St. Joseph to provide free COVID-19 testing to the poor and uninsured.

The hospital “is the only source of medical care for many of my own constituents and serves some of Milwaukee’s poorest residents – many of whom lack adequate insurance. This pandemic cannot – must not – become a death sentence for the poor and uninsured,” wrote Rainey in a letter sent March 16 to Joseph R. Impicciche, president and CEO of Ascension.

Golden said the hospital system has been phasing in the mobile test centers at its locations. Several centers opened in other locations last week, and three more will open next week.

How mobile testing works

Patients who are uninsured will not be billed for COVID-19-related testing or treatment. The hospital system will cover co-pays for those with commercial insurance.

Reggie Newson, vice president of government and community services and chief advocacy officer for Ascension Wisconsin, said no one will be turned away.

“We will care for anyone who comes to us, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said.

The sites are by appointment-only. If you want to be tested, you must get pre-screened by an Ascension Medical Group provider, by phone or virtually.

During the screening, you will answer questions about symptoms, travel history and any potential contact with COVID-19 patients. If you meet the criteria, which is based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you will be given an appointment for drive-through testing.

Getting tested

At the testing site, patients remain in their vehicle. An Ascension employee will look up the patient’s information to confirm he or she has been screened and requires testing.

Nasal swab samples will be collected and sent to a state-approved laboratory for analysis, which can take up to one week. Ascension will contact patients with results. Positive results will be reported to the Wisconsin Department of Health.

Toll-free information line

Ascension Wisconsin has established a dedicated telephone resource for COVID-19 questions. This can be accessed 24/7 by calling 1-833-981-0711. Call 9-1-1 if it’s an emergency.

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