GARDNER, MA — The city will host a regional rapid test kit distribution site at the Polish American Citizens Club on Monday, Jan. 31. Officials said the city and several other towns in the region have collaborated to bulk purchase six pallets of free at-home COVID test kits for residents.
Mayor Michael Nicholson said the city decided to take the lead on making a bulk purchase of test kits from the state due to the massive local demand for more testing than Heywood Healthcare and Community Health Connections were able to provide.
“During a conversation with the area’s legislative delegation, it was brought up that several smaller communities were unable to purchase the minimum order from the state contract for the tests because they simply didn’t have enough people to meet the need,” said Nicholson, who added that the minimum order from the state’s vendor was for a little more than 15,000 kits, with two tests per kit, at a price of $76,000. “This works for places like Gardner, but smaller towns don’t have 15,000 people, let alone need or can afford 15,000 kits.”
Under the agreement, Gardner purchased a bulk order of the tests, and the participating communities reimbursed the city for their share of the cost, all utilizing funding they received from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, according to officials.
Gardner, Athol and Westminster residents, with proof of residency, will be able to pick up free COVID test kits at the PACC in Gardner between 1 and 7 p.m. on Jan. 31. Winchendon, Royalston, Templeton, Hubbardston and Rutland have picked up their portions of the bulk order and will be holding their own distribution sites to be determined.
Working with state Rep. Jon Zlotnik, D-Gardner, Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, and Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, city officials reached out to a dozen local towns to determine a minimum order of what they decided their communities needed.
As a result, Gardner, Athol and Westminster residents, with proof of residency, can pick up their kits at the PACC at 171 Kendall Pond Road West in Gardner between 1 and 7 p.m. on Jan. 31. The towns of Winchendon, Royalston, Templeton, Hubbardston and Rutland have picked up their portions of the bulk order and will be holding their own distribution sites, according to officials.
Win Brown, president and CEO of Heywood Healthcare, said he appreciates the full-scale effort to collaboratively address the testing needs of the local area.
“Our city leadership, the leadership of our state delegation, and the level of regional collaboration is commendable, and will help to address the high volume of patients seeking non-symptomatic testing in the urgent care setting,” Brown said.
“The problem was two-fold. We needed more testing capacity to take pressure off the hospital, and smaller communities were unable to take advantage of the bulk discounts on tests, so we put this plan together, and I’m grateful Mayor Nicholson stepped up to facilitate the purchase,” Zlotnik said.
Westminster Town Administrator Stephanie Lahitnen said she is pleased that her town can participate in the effort to provide test kits directly to the public.
“Access to COVID-19 testing has been a significant challenge for many, and I am happy that we are able to join area municipalities in this regional initiative,” Lahitnen said. “We are grateful to the city of Gardner for taking the lead and for the federal funding provided by the American Rescue Plan.”
All tests will be distributed to the public at no cost, officials said. Those participating in the drive-up distribution day at the PACC will be asked to provide proof of residency in one the three participating towns in order to meet the requirement of the federal funding.
Free COVID test kits will be handed out to residents of Gardner, Westminster and Athol at the PACC in Gardner on Jan. 31 between 1 and 7 p.m.
The Disabled American Veterans Department of Massachusetts will be providing a limited supply of hand sanitizer and soap to those who attend the regional distribution at the PACC, officials said.
In addition to participating in the PACC event, the town of Athol will also host its own distribution center, according to officials.
“COVID-19 has no borders and has greatly stressed the health care network and citizens in the north central and north Quabbin regions,” said Athol Town Manager Shaun Suhoski. “We appreciate the proactive and regional approach taken by Mayor Nicholson and our state delegation in completing procurement of these tests.”
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Officials have reached out to Petersham, Phillipston, Orange, Barre, Princeton and Ashburnham to see if those communities would like to participate in a future bulk order of test kits, according to Nicholson.
“I’m glad that Gardner was able to be a leader in the region in helping get these kits out to the public,” Nicholson said. “We’re doing all that we can to make sure that the north central and north Quabbin regions have the resources we need to alleviate the burden currently facing our own health care systems and curb the effects of the pandemic in our area.”
In early January, Gov. Charlie Baker announced the creation of a new statewide contract in which municipalities could order rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, with a minimum order of 15,120 tests. The iHealth tests are the same 15-minute rapid tests as those that were distributed by the state around the Christmas holiday.