CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A doctor’s office in Northeast Ohio is at the center of a 19 News investigation after patients have filed complaints with Cuyahoga County, accusing staff of giving patients misleading information on COVID testing.
Jacquiline Bowen says she ended up at the MedCare Center in Parma Heights for a COVID test in November, because the Urgent Care facility she tried to get in at in Brunswick was too busy.
“They handed me paper with a list of places that do rapid COVID testing,” she said.
She says she was looking to do a second COVID test at the time, after a swab COVID test she took at a pharmacy three days earlier on November 13 came back positive.
The MedCare Center’s website says, ”If you suspect that you have been exposed to coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, let’s put your mind at ease with results in as little as 15 minutes.”
Bowen says, “‘I [asked MedCare] what kind is it?’ And [staff] said ‘the antibody’ and I said, ‘oh, I thought that only showed if you had COVID in the past? and she said, ‘no it does both. It will tell you if you have COVID now and in the past.”
So Bowen let doctors draw her blood on November 16th, and within minutes, she had a letter in hand saying she tested negative.
“I said, ‘I had a positive test before I came here. What should I trust? and [MedCare staff] said this test is 96 percent accurate and it never leaves our facility so it’s less likely to be contaminated,’” Bowen said.
The note Bowen got from MedCare simply says “Jacqueline tested negative for COVID-19 on November 16.” and refers questions back to the doctor.
“That’s all the paper says. it doesn’t go into [specifics],” she said.
But, the more research Bowen did, the more skeptical she became. Plus, she was starting to experience symptoms.
She decided to take a third test- another swab test at the pharmacy. Sure enough, it came back positive on November 19- three days after the negative one at MedCare and six days after the first positive test she believes was accurate.
She came to 19 News investigators, concerned about how many others may be testing negative at Medcare, only to continue spreading the virus.
“I was infuriated,” she said. “Not necessarily that they had a false negative, but the way [MedCare] administered the test, the way they described the test.”
Bowen believes the MedCare Center is advertising peace of mind that they cannot give with the type of test they’re doing.
“People are buying it,” she said.
Bowen says she contacted the Ohio Board of Health, the state nursing board, the state medical board, filed a complaint with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, and she even wrote a letter to Governor Dewine himself.
However, she’s disappointed because it appears nothing has changed, except for her inbox on social media.
“It’s so funny. I tried my hardest to go through all the proper channels,” she said. “But, I put a Facebook post out there, and now people are reaching out to me.”
She says people are telling her they had similar experiences at MedCare.
Through open records requests, 19 Investigates found that eight others have filed official complaints with the county about this clinic since March. They range from improper mask wearing to COVID positive employees still working, and within the last month, two people filed complaints stating misinformation was being given to patients about COVID testing.
Bowen is hoping to get her message out about her experience, before another round of people requests tests in an attempt to safely spend time with family and friends this Christmas.
“That’s really my only goal, was to stop them from doing this to other people,” she said.
The MedCare Center is an accredited by the CDC as a physician’s office and is staffed by a full time doctor.
We called the clinic multiple times. We asked to speak with Dr. Carmen Popa, however a woman named India Small first called us back on her behalf.
We asked about the blood test the office is giving patients. She told us the test can detect an active case of COIVD and whether someone has already had the virus.
Small said, “It does test to see if you have COVID currently, but it’s the antibody test.”
19 News went to the MedCare Center multiple times to speak to Dr. Popa directly and get the clinic’s side of the story.
When we went to the clinic on Wednesday, staff told us Doctor Popa would call us.
She didn’t, so we returned to her office on Thursday.
She did not want to go on camera, but told us all of the information on her website is accurate.
Signs outside of the MedCare center advertise rapid COVID tests, their website however, refers to their method as rapid antibody testing.
Other doctors said the two are very different from each other.
Dr. Daniel Rhoads with the Cleveland Clinic said the best way to get an accurate result is an antigen test, which is usually done through a nasal swab.
He said antibody testing only shows the virus after someone has recovered or about a week after someone is infected. However, in some patients, he said it may not show at all.
“That detection of the antibody is evidence somebody has been infected either sometime in the distant past or beginning of recovery potentially, or the body is at least mounting an immune response to the virus,” Dr. Rhoads said.
Earlier this month, the FBI sent agents to investigate a clinic in New Jersey that was claiming to be testing for COVID using blood tests.
The agency said in a release afterwards that those who were given a blood test at the facility should be retested and that “only a test that uses a nasal swab or saliva should be used to diagnose active cases of COVID-19.”
Another man who came to 19 News after getting a blood test at MedCare said that would have been nice to know.
Evan is 28-years-old and asked we not use his last name. He too, tested negative at MedCare in November and went back to life as usual.
Just days later, he lost his sense of taste and smell. He got a swab test at Walgreens which was positive.
“It was very upsetting to me because unfortunately, I do know people at work who ended up getting sick after I did. And it just makes me feel I’m responsible, and I could’ve prevented it had I gotten real results,” he said.
When we talked to Small in Dr. Popa’s office over the phone, we specifically asked her about Evan’s case and whether it is made known to patients that even if they test negative, they could still have the virus.
“It says it on the paperwork,” Small said.
The paperwork Evan left with is different from the paper Bowen got when she received her negative result a few days before him.
Evan’s documents include a blurb about the kind of test he took-- a “COVID rapid antibody test.”
He said he got the paper to give to his employer in order to return to work. The first line of the paper reads “please be advised that Evan was seen in my office today. Evan tested negative for COVID-19 on November23, 2020 for the COVID-19 rapid antibody test.” The paper also advises to return if symptoms worsen or are persistent. However, Evan says he was actually improving when he got his second test that turned out positive.
However, he’s worried he’s just one of many who didn’t understand the risk still at hand because of the information the MedCare office gave him.
“It makes me feel terrible as a person to know I was going out there and spreading this, because I didn’t think I had it, when in reality I did,” he said.