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Embry Health workers react to lack of federal aid as COVID testing sites close

The highly contagious BA-2 variant has some people concerned about the lack of federal funding for testing and vaccinations.
Published: Apr. 2, 2022 at 10:04 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Across the United States, new COVID-19 numbers are dwindling. But other countries are noticing surges in cases. The highly contagious BA-2 variant has some people concerned about the lack of federal funding for testing and vaccinations. The U.S. Senate is expected to approve more money for testing later this month. But the lack of funding is already being felt here in Arizona, with COVID testing sites closing down.

“We don’t know what’s next,” Embry Health Phoenix College site supervisor Monica Altamirano said.

After seeing four of her ten full-time staff furloughed, with no return in site, Altamirano hopes she’s not the next in line. “I’m worried about my employment,” she said. “And about Embry as well, because they’ve grown so fast and rapidly.”

Because of that lack of federal funding, Embry Health is cutting back. Sixty testing sites are temporarily closed, with over 200 workers furloughed. “Knowing that the community still needs them, and having to tell them that there’s not funding to be able to pay them and continue keeping them at these sites,” Embry Health CEO Raymond Embry said. “For me, that’s the most challenging.”

Embry says his company has tried to help those furloughed by allowing them to sign up for shifts when needed. But if Embry Health doesn’t receive federal funding, he’s expecting to face even more challenges if another COVID-19 surge occurs. “It’s essential to keep the infrastructure in place,” he said. “Because it takes months to bring new test sites online.”

Embry Health is storing testing equipment at the shutdown sites with the expectation that relief will come soon. In the meantime, employees like Altamirano play the waiting game, trying to stay positive while doing more with less. “I’m definitely happy to continue to work for them,” she said. “But yeah, it’s concerning that that may not be there tomorrow.”