Susan Prewitt

Senior Regional Outreach Coordinator Susan Prewitt prepares to deliver used COVID-19 test kits to be processed at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

COLUMBUS – Since April 1, 16 members of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Outreach and Engagement team have logged nearly 60,000 miles delivering almost 11,000 COVID-19 test kits to community hospitals and post-acute care facilities across Ohio.

The COVID-19 testing kits produced by Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Health are provided to expand and accelerate testing. Each test kit can be processed by a lab at Ohio State or elsewhere, said Tom Blincoe, executive director of Outreach and Engagement and the Ohio State Health Network.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Outreach and Engagement team would visit hospitals across the state to share information about Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and determine best ways to meet the needs of those hospitals and the communities they serve. But during the pandemic, that was no longer possible because of new hospital visitor restrictions.

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“We determined there was a need to do something different around testing, and our staff jumped at the chance to help,” Blincoe said. “We believe this is just something we should be doing. Part of our mission as a land-grant university is to provide the state of Ohio with whatever help we can during this pandemic.”

In addition to delivering test kits to almost 30 community hospitals across Ohio, team members pick up test specimens and bring them back to Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s lab. They also transport other needed supplies to support the care of COVID-19 patients, including personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns and digital thermometers.

Delivery runs happen daily Monday through Saturday, with team members driving each afternoon to hospitals and post-acute care centers in Bellefontaine, Bucyrus, Cincinnati, Coldwater, Dayton, Galion, Hillsboro, Lancaster, Lima, London, Marysville, Mount Vernon, Ontario, Portsmouth, Springfield, Upper Sandusky, Van Wert, Washington Courthouse, Wilmington, Youngstown and Zanesville.

“In addition to the Outreach and Engagement drivers, this project wouldn’t be possible without supply chain management, University Reference Laboratories, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center labs, Department of Pathology, Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, Engineering, and Nursing, along with Ambulatory Logistics and Distribution,” Blincoe said. “This is a coordinated team effort."

Of key importance is the majority of these test kits have been created by Medical Center researchers. During the COVID-19 outbreak, there’s been a critical shortage of test kit components, including the swabs used to collect samples and the sterile solution needed to transport the swabs. The test kits include nasopharyngeal swabs and vials filled with a sterile solution called viral transport media (VTM).

Since early April, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center has been producing its own VTM for COVID-19 test kits to expand and accelerate testing across Ohio. Some of the earlier test kits included commercially available VTM.

“This program has been a huge asset for us, and we’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received,” said Lisa Klenke, chief executive officer for Mercer Health, a 93-bed community hospital in Coldwater that serves 40,000 residents in Mercer County along the Indiana state line. “Testing was the biggest challenge, but having access to the testing kits and the test runs daily has been a great advantage to us.

"Now we’ve been able to open a drive-thru swabbing station that is benefitting the entire community.”