Cherry Health offers testing to public, seeks help

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Cherry Health is now offering COVID-19 testing to the general public in Grand Rapids.

Cherry Health started offering testing to its patients three weeks ago but is now expanding the offering to assist in getting the broader community tested.

Those seeking tests will need to contact the Cherry Health COVID-19 Hotline at 616.965.8347 to be prescreened. If healthcare officials determine that a caller should be tested, they will be directed to show up at a drive-up testing site in Grand Rapids. The site is not accepting patients who do not call the hotline in advance.

Cherry Health is targeting patients who are low-income and may not be able to or feel comfortable with seeking care elsewhere. The organization has been in existence for more than 30 years and focuses on improving health outcomes for those who have suffered from health disparities.

The coronavirus statistics in Michigan bear out the concerns around health disparities. The state reported as of Wednesday that 33% of those confirmed to have the coronavirus in Michigan are black.

Blacks also accounted for 40% of the coronavirus deaths in Michigan.

“It has impacted low-income communities with brutal force,” Cherry Health CEO Tasha Blackmon said in an interview with News 8. 

Blackmon said about 22% of those tested by Cherry Health have tested positive for COVID-19.

While navigating the coronavirus disaster, Cherry Health is also dealing with a financial crisis.

COVID-19 has forced the organization to close its in-school offices and cancel the vast majority of its appointments. That means less money in the non-profit organization’s coffers to offer care for the community.

Blackmon said she has laid off a quarter of the organization’s approximately 800 staff members. Others are working reduced schedules or are taking temporary pay cuts. Blackmon said Cherry Health leaders have taken 25% temporary pay cuts, while still working in overdrive.

“It’s painful,” Blackmon said of the layoffs. “The magnitude of losses are going to be hard to come back from.”

Cherry Health is poised to lose up to $15 million if the crisis continues through August, Blackmon said.

She is hopeful state and federal assistance might help mitigate the damage but the organization is also seeking help from the public. Those wanting to contribute can make donations online.

“We’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime,” Blackmon said. “We’re going to do everything possible to ensure that we have the resources necessary to carry the organization forward for the next 50 years.”

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