Earlier this year, Daniel Pulse found himself on a scavenger hunt.
Instead of tracking down a variety of random items, Pulse was searching for one thing – a space in Spokane Valley that could host a drive-thru COVID-19 test site.
Pulse works for Discovery Health MD, a physician-led company that provides health services for employers, travelers, and communities. The Seattle-based organization worked with the Washington State Department of Health to open its first drive-thru test site in Enumclaw in December of 2020, a location in Tacoma was next, followed by other sites on the west side.
Establishing similar venues east of the Cascades was next for Pulse and his team. Discovery Health MD launched a drive-thru venue at Spokane Falls Community College on October 18, 2021 and administered 310 tests on the first day.
Just over a month later, another site premiered at the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds. When it became clear at the start of 2022 that the fairgrounds would need the space for incoming events, Pulse began the pursuit of a location that could serve Valley residents.
“We knew it was a priority,” said Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney, who represents District 2, which includes Spokane Valley. “We couldn’t have it at the fairgrounds, so what would be the alternative?”
As chair of the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) Board, Kuney was in discussions with Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Frank Velazquez about the need for a Valley site. Velazquez then reached out to Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Lance Beck, for input.
“The goal is to have as much testing coverage as possible,” said Velazquez. “We wanted an option within the boundaries of Spokane Valley. We have a very strong history of collaboration with our chambers of commerce. They have knowledge of what is where.”
Kuney added, “I knew that once we handed it over to the chamber, we wouldn’t have to worry about it.”
After surveying a variety of potential Valley options, Beck connected with Pulse on a possible solution – the parking lot of Ashley Furniture HomeStore Outlet at 13414 E. Sprague Ave. The property owner, Tombari Properties, became a key to securing the venue along with the Chamber.
“We got a call from the Valley Chamber saying they needed to find a site in the Valley in a couple of weeks,” said Terry Tombari, President and CEO of Tombari Properties. “They mentioned that location, so we got a lease together and got them in there. This is a social health cause so it’s important to have test sites and this is a convenient location for the public.”
By March 7, the first cars were pulling into the makeshift clinic.
“We were having a heck of a time finding a site in the Valley,” Pulse said. “Lance and the Chamber were super helpful. They had a number of ideas right off the bat. They were integral in developing that relationship and helping us secure that space.”
Those who get tested enjoy the convenience of remaining in their vehicles. There is no cost. The site administers two kinds of tests – a rapid antigen version and a lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. If the rapid test turns up negative, a PCR test follows as a backup.
“We’ve been able to get really large volumes of people tested,” said Kira Lewis, a public health nurse with SRHD. “We are way more streamlined and efficient in how we’re approaching this.”
Pulse said both the Valley and SFCC sites will remain open through September.
“We hope to be able to continue this beyond September pending solutions for funding,” he said. “I’m optimistic about that.”
Discovery Health MD also has a permanent site at 429 E. Sprague Ave. that specializes in COVID-19 testing for travelers.
“We want people to get a test when they need it,” Pulse said.
Velazquez said the partnership with Discovery Health MD “has been a great collaboration that should continue.” The Valley site has averaged around 70 tests per week since it opened.
“There’s no appointment necessary,” Velazquez said. “It’s very flexible, very user-friendly. I’ve heard from a lot of citizens who have gone.”
Velazquez emphasized that reining in COVID-19 “reduces the impact on high-acuity clinical settings like ERs and hospitals.” He pointed out other free resources for tests, including a program through the federal government – www.covid.gov/test that provides at-home kits.
As positive cases have been on the increase this summer, Kelli Hawkins, spokesperson for SRHD, said, continued community teamwork will be one of the factors to an effective response.
“We now have a process unlike early on in the pandemic,” she said. “These partnerships have been instrumental in finding solutions.”
As for the effort that went into making the Valley site a reality, Beck expressed appreciation for the commitment of his chamber colleagues.
“I’m just really proud of our team and what we did to track down all the property options to make sure the Valley was being served,” he said.