Rutgers, Quest Diagnostics to provide free lab tests to uninsured

Quest Diagnostics said it recently joined forces with a free H.O.P.E. Clinic in Plainfield operated by Rutgers University to help reduce health disparities in a community with a high percentage of uninsured adults by providing free lab services.

Not only is this helping people with chronic conditions receive the treatments they need, but it also is helping to keep health care costs down by giving people an alternative to emergency departments.

Under the program, clinicians send laboratory orders directly to a nearby Quest patient service center, which allows patients to visit immediately after their appointment. The results are transmitted directly back to the clinic for follow-up with the patient.

Gianella Burga, a physician assistant student at Rutgers who volunteers at the H.O.P.E. Clinic, which is owned and operated by the Rutgers School of Health Professions, knows firsthand how difficult it is for people without insurance to access even the most basic medical care such as lab tests.

“Many of my family members are uninsured and struggle to get testing for conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol. It’s difficult for them to take a day off from work for a doctor’s visit and then another day for tests,” Burga said. “This is why I went into medicine: to address these gaps in care.”

Burga is one of about 75 students who volunteer at the H.O.P.E. Clinic, which provides free primary care to hundreds of uninsured adults in Plainfield, many of whom are Spanish-speaking.

One day each week, Rutgers faculty and physician assistant students see patients who are trying to manage acute and chronic diseases and provide them with referrals to specialists as well as critical education on managing their health conditions.

For well over a decade, the Rutgers physician assistant program has provided free primary care services in various locations throughout the state. The H.O.P.E. Clinic, which was opened in 2021, provides an essential service to a city where about 30% of residents are uninsured and 39% report not having a primary care provider.

Quest has a history of helping underserved and minority communities throughout the nation gain access to the information they need to take control of their health. Recognizing early in the pandemic that COVID-19 was having a disproportionate impact on communities of color, the company launched Quest for Health Equity with an initial focus on giving these communities access to COVID-19 testing and critical health care services.

“This has since grown to become a more than $100 million initiative focused on addressing health care disparities,” Ruth Clements, vice president and general manager of infectious diseases and immunology at Quest Diagnostics and leader of Quest for Health Equity, stated. “This collaboration with Rutgers is a great example of joining forces to make a difference in underserved communities. As our headquarters is based in New Jersey, we are honored to work to address health inequities in our home state with a strong teammate like Rutgers.”

The H.O.P.E. Clinic is one of an estimated 1,400 free and charitable clinics in the U.S. that serve about 7 million people annually. Quest’s commitment to the clinic addresses a concern Director Frank Giannelli sees nationwide.

“Not only does being uninsured make accessing health-related services challenging, but people who are uninsured disproportionately use emergency departments for the management of conditions that could easily be managed in the outpatient setting,” he said. “Based on the average one-time emergency department visit cost of $1,389, free clinics save emergency departments an estimated $9.6 billion each year. When companies such as Quest help reduce barriers to care in uninsured populations, it allows clinicians to make realistic treatment plans that will help keep people out of the hospital, which is also good for our nation’s health care costs.”