ATLANTA — Authorities in South Carolina said they’re still trying to get more information on major summer COVID-19 test delays tied to a Norcross-based lab that partnered with Black churches for widespread testing.
Three of the patients interviewed by Channel 2 did not receive results for tests taken in June and July — until October, which is shortly after we contacted the lab owner. The lab owner tells Channel 2 she is prepared to take legal action against another lab responsible for processing the tests.
MAJL Diagnostics is owned and operated by local entrepreneur and reality TV personality Lisa Nicole Cloud. Cloud bought and opened the laboratory shortly before the pandemic.
Patients tell Channel 2 they recognized Cloud from being featured on the reality TV show “Married to Medicine” and felt comfortable going to her lab’s free testing sites after seeing local articles and promotion, including those quoting Cloud and her husband. Patients with insurance were asked for their information.
Cloud said MAJL was requested by Black churches to come in and serve underserved communities at the height of the pandemic, so it operated a number of testing sites across metro Atlanta, south Georgia and South Carolina. She said testing took off in June, and it couldn’t get results to patients because of a widespread lab backlog.
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Cloud declined an on-camera interview but agreed to speak over the phone in late September.
“I don’t think — and I’ve taken a lot of tests myself, and we’ve dealt with testing delayed stories — but I don’t think anyone waited over a month, you know, for for those results,” said Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr.
“We didn’t, didn’t have any anybody wait over a month either,” said Cloud. “If people did not receive their results, like I said, I’m happy to pull it up and look it up. The longest we had was 20 days.”
By July, when equipment delivery delays prevented MAJL from processing its own specimen, Cloud said she turned to a number of labs, including Florida-based Flo-Medi, to conduct test processing.
She said that at one point, her lab had collected 6,000 specimens. There were processing delays, but she didn’t want to stop testing amid angry reviews because of the need.
“When all of a sudden over a period of days, 150 jumps to like 300 tests administered, and, you know, we don’t, we didn’t want to cancel, because if we canceled on a place that had already promoted that they were going to do a free testing, by then, we’d have a whole 'nother situation, where they would be angry with us,” Cloud said.
While two metro Atlanta patients interviewed by Channel 2 said their results rolled in weeks later, three others still had not received theirs this month.
Marlana Sibert and her mother, Johnnie Sibert, lives in Dacula. They shared a similar experience with a Macon patient named Robby Gibbs. The group did not know another lab was involved in processing the tests until they saw charges for the tests on their insurance when they’d never received the results.
In the Siberts' case, the tests were performed in June, and the billing from Flo-Medi was in August. Gibbs took a second test weeks after an initial test, and he said he received no results.
They said they spent the summer and early fall making unsuccessful attempts to contact or get answers from MAJL, which was listed as their lab contact for results.
“She (mother) called, and every day it was an excuse,” said Marlana Sibert. “Every day. It was always short people. We don’t have enough. You’ll get it Friday. Call back Friday. Oh, you’ll get Thursday. Oh, call back. You’ll get it Monday, but we’re short people. Don’t have enough people.”
Gibbs said he lied to a doctor’s office, saying he wasn’t waiting for the first results, so he could be admitted to a scheduled “appointment.” Patients with pending tests were not authorized to be seen.
“That is leading to an impact on people’s medical care,” said Gibbs.
He eventually retested with MAJL and received results.
None of the patients received their missing results until this month — after Carr contacted Cloud in late September. Cloud said she resent them and said they’d been in the system, but she believed initial results might have been caught up in email spam folders. She said her staff was overwhelmed over the summer, but all results should have been delivered. Current wait times are three days or less, and she’s cut ties with the Florida lab.
“I really pride myself on my integrity and my reputation in the community,” Cloud said. " So this was very, you know, important to me to try and provide excellent service. And so, you know, I hate that, for that two-week window of time that we had the situation."
But there are still questions about what happened.
A spokesman for the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office confirms the office is still speaking with Cloud’s attorneys about the test delays. The discussions began in late summer and continue this week at the request of the state’s health department, according to the spokesman. It’s unclear how many delayed results are at the center of the inquiry, but the spokesman noted the delay range was weeks to months.
“We’ve been fully cooperative with the South Carolina AG,” said Cloud. “Our attorneys have been talking to them, and there doesn’t seem to be any, you know, concern that we did anything wrong because they understood what was happening during that period of time.”
A spokeswoman for Georgia’s attorney general’s office confirms a Georgia consumer contacted them over the summer regarding the backlog and missing results, but the consumer did not answer follow-up questions sent by the attorney general’s office. A formal inquiry was never launched in Georgia.
Cloud added that this week, demand letters had been sent to Flo-Medi lab on behalf of patients in August — a detail that wasn’t shared in the initial interview. She also said she is prepared to take the lab to court over a contractual dispute in which she said the lab owes MAJL $200,000 in unpaid test processing fees.