Some Phoenix Patients Wonder if they Might Ever Get COVID-19 Test Results Back

Elias Weiss
Premier Lab Solutions has a clinic along 16th Street in Phoenix. A worker takes a quick break between administering COVID-19 tests to patients in a long line of cars.
It's been two months since Monica Lenne expected COVID-19 test results for her family from a free testing location in the Alhambra neighborhood in uptown Phoenix.

In November 2021, the single mother of two children claims she visited a Premier Lab Solutions LLC site in the parking lot next to Washington Park near 23rd Avenue and was promised test results within 48 hours.

She wanted to send her children back to school after Thanksgiving break with certainty they were not infectious with COVID-19, to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. She thought she could find some peace of mind by getting the pair of kids tested, and trusted that the free testing site supported by the city of Phoenix was a good bet.

But she claims she is still waiting on the Phoenix-based business and the results were never sent along.

“While they are not sending the results, people's lives are on hold,” Lenne said.

click to enlarge Medical staff chat at Premier Lab Solutions' drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic at 16th Street and Mitchell Drive. Visible from the busy roadway is a sign boasting results in as few as two hours – but some patients report waiting weeks or months for answers. - ELIAS WEISS
Medical staff chat at Premier Lab Solutions' drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic at 16th Street and Mitchell Drive. Visible from the busy roadway is a sign boasting results in as few as two hours – but some patients report waiting weeks or months for answers.
Elias Weiss

Premier Lab Solutions, which operates some COVID-19 testing sites on behalf of the city, disputes Lenne's version of events.

“Premier does not lose test results,” wrote Kendall Oltrogge, CEO of Premier Lab Solutions, in a recent email to Phoenix New Times. “Every person who receives a test is contacted and receives their results through Premier’s online portal.”

Premier Lab Solutions was awarded a $2 million contract from the city of Phoenix using federal money allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. It was part of the Biden Administration's $1.9 trillion package of coronavirus relief and economic stimulus. The local company's contract has been extended twice by the city since then, city records show.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego touted the city's partnership with Premier Lab Solutions in February 2021 to provide free COVID-19 tests to Valley residents. Gallego promised patients could get "rapid results" from the testing site within two days.

Several other companies were tapped to provide free COVID-19 tests: Phoenix-based nonprofit Equality Health Foundation, local clinic Family Tree Healthcare, and New York-based XpresCheck.

Joni Oltrogge co-founded Premier Lab Solutions in 2015, state records show. The Oltrogge Family Revocable Trust alongside Remi Racing LLC are listed as members of the startup company. It was not immediately clear who controls Remi Racing.

Joni, who is married to Kendall, was exasperated when confronted with the allegations against her company, which range from inaccurate patient records to not adequately paying partners and investors. 

"Nothing fishy is going on," she told New Times.

Three months ago, Premier Lab Solutions settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed amount. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix, alleged that Premier Lab Solutions did not pay for thousands of lab tests conducted on its behalf.

Santa Fe Springs, California-based WestPac was owed $355,740 by Premier Lab Solutions, according to the lawsuit. The agreement between the two companies dated back to April 2020, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Premier Lab Solutions was responsible for administering tests to patients in Phoenix and WestPac was supposed to evaluate the results at its California laboratory for $70 a pop, according to the lawsuit.

Adrianna Gorton, attorney for WestPac, claimed that Premier Lab Solutions didn't pay for 5,000 tests evaluated by WestPac, according to the lawsuit. WestPac's invoice did mistakenly charge $100 for some tests, but the invoice was later corrected, according to the California business.

Gorton declined to disclose the settlement amount.

Before the coronavirus pandemic began, the nascent company settled a different lawsuit with its investors.

In 2016, Premier told potential investors it could generate $6.3 million in revenue and $1.2 million in expenses, a profit of roughly $5 million each year, according to the lawsuit which cited company emails.

In 2019, investors claimed that Kendall, the CEO, did not manage the company's finances in the way presented to partners. The investors claim that the CEO "caused Premier to incur disproportionately high operating costs, including labor expenses in excess of $305,000 per month," according to the lawsuit.

Kendall was the driving force for the company to hire an outside billing company "owned by one of his personal friends" which resulted in mismanagement of the company's billing process, investors claimed in the lawsuit. That mismanagement included $1.1 million in 'uncollectible receivables' which means the company wasn't able to collect payment for its services rendered.

He denied all of the dozens of allegations against him in that case. The settlement amount is redacted from court records.

In the meantime, other patients who trusted Premier Lab Solutions complained about long delays for results and lack of communication when they needed support.

Phoenix resident Rebecca Craw worried about her daughter who suffered from headaches and fatigue earlier this month. Craw's daughter would need to test negative for COVID-19 before she could return to school in person.

She relied on Premier Lab Solutions for test results within 48 hours. 

By the time she got the results, the mandatory quarantine period had elapsed and the test was no longer needed.

“I had to call them daily with them to try to get a hold of somebody, but I couldn’t,” Craw said in an interview. “I’m so upset with their services. I just need some answers and I have nothing.”

Distraught patients hastily took to online platforms Ike Nextdoor, Google, and Better Business Bureau to barrage Premier Lab Solutions with disparaging reviews and comments about how the company overcharged insurance providers. But the Arizona Department of Insurance hasn’t received an official complaint.

The department usually deals with consumer complaints against insurance companies and the situation is "unusual in a way," said James McGuffin, spokesperson for the insurance department. Its fraud unit would be responsible for investigating a laboratory accused of gouging an insurance provider.

Likewise, there are no complaints on file with the city of Phoenix against the company, said Dan Wilson, spokesperson for the city.

Wilson later said that the city needed to "respond quickly and efficiently to the community need for testing services" in early 2021, a year after the pandemic began.

"The city evaluated recommended vendors based on qualifications including years of experience, medical expertise, and pricing. Premier Lab Solutions was selected as a qualified vendor to provide testing and vaccination services," Wilson said.

Premier Lab Solutions encourages patients to submit any grievances to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services about their medical care, according to its website. But it's unclear whether any patients have gone that far. 

“We cannot comment on the nature of complaints received to safeguard the anonymity of complainants,” said Julie Brookhart, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Brookhart declined to confirm if complaints had been filed or not, citing federal policy.

CEO Kendall Oltrogge said the company has dealt with significant delays and blamed the supply chain and Omicron variant surge. He said that delays are common in the industry but other test sites have not suffered the same fate. 

“Omicron hit Premier’s workforce particularly hard,” Oltrogge said.

The company hired 60 new workers this month since 30 percent of its workforce has been out sick with COVID-19. It has grown to have more than 500 employees across Arizona. 

The laboratory processes tens of thousands of tests every month, and with the federal government sequestering more than 500 million antigen tests with “almost no notice,” Premier is struggling to obtain necessary supplies, Oltrogge said. 

“Critical testing supplies are currently sitting in ships off the coast of Los Angeles,” he said.

“I just need some answers and I have nothing.”

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But patients say they want the company to be more transparent about the reality of delays. 

“I understand it’s busy due to the rise in COVID cases,” Craw said. “But don’t promise us a time you can’t meet.”

The laboratory, which has “a special focus on underserved communities,” rakes in more than $9 million in annual revenue, according to its Dun & Bradstreet industry estimate. 

The couple at the helm of that lab says they just want to serve the Phoenix community and keep residents safe for years to come.

“Premier’s highest priority is ensuring that its patients receive timely, accurate test results,” Oltrogge said. “Any patient with concerns is encouraged to contact Premier directly.”