Rapid Testing Site for Roosevelt Island? Good. RIOC’s Handling? Weird.

Rapid Testing Site for Roosevelt Island? Good. RIOC’s Handling? Weird.

A rapid testing site for Roosevelt Island is good news. So, why is RIOC so weird about it?

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

The strangeness of RIOC and its rapid testing site…

The news could hardly be better. The old library at 524 Main, on Wednesday, begins offering rapid antigen coronavirus testing.

But conventional wisdom forced its way into the picture again as the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. (RIOC) covered up details, repeating years of strange conduct like bad digestion.

People with nothing to hide don’t hide anything. That’s a simple fact.

Yet RIOC seems intent on confirming local suspicion that it cuts irregular deals and turns itself inside out hiding them. Repeatedly, the state agency acts, shrouded in secrecy. Why?

While the state agency refuses information requests from local media, it issues PR style statements to outsiders.

Maybe activist Frank Farance’s insight best explains it: “Stupid people keep doing stupid things.”

An addiction to secrecy or foolishness? Those are our choices…

Because this powerfully beneficial act is one for which it ought to be waving flags, bragging about its community commitment. Instead, it raises doubts and leaves common sense questions unanswered.

Residents crave easy access to coronavirus testing, and RIOC responded, but why hide its light under the all too familiar bushel basket?

Rapid testing site being built out by RIOC.
Windows frosted, interior near finished, RIOC’s rapid testing site for Main Street seems ready, but the state’s secrecy is strange and troubling.

So, what’s going on here?

Back in November, RIOC said it was building a rapid testing site in the vacated public library. An isolated community, especially its frail and elderly, needed it, and they promised a mid-December opening.

But questions came up, right away…

Could they build it that fast? (They couldn’t, it turned out.) Who would manage it? RIOC’s not a health care provider by any stretch, but inquiries brought only silence.

Rumors circulated about a partnership with Swift Emergency Care P.C., a company so obscure that, after five years, it had no website. Very recently, however, someone opened a related website — Swift EC Testing — and it suggests that Roosevelt Island is its one and only set operation. Ever.

Professional staff listed are Dr. Christian Bannerman, an emergency room specialist, and Dr. Ronald Rose, an orthopedics physician. Dr. Bannerman lists affiliations with four hospitals, two of which are in Pennsylvania and one on Long Island. Neither lists any connection with Swift anywhere than on the above website.

The good news is that, according to their registration page, testing is free, but other questions remain unanswered. For example, free testing sounds great until you bump against the wall of logic: Somebody’s paying for it, but who?

RIOC not only won’t say, but they refused for months to confirm the partnership in the first place.

When will RIOC’s rapid testing site open?

Swift already posted low-paying job opportunities online, if you knew where to look for them, but as with RIOC, there was no local recruiting.

Yesterday, after we posted this article, RIOC finally released information on its website, just two days before the opening, which is set for tomorrow. A claimed capacity of 500 tests per day means the location can test every many woman and child on Roosevelt Island in six weeks.

And that’s with a limited schedule of four days per week, Wednesday through Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Although as far as we can tell, local residents foot all the bills, the site will test anyone from anywhere.

Financial details are murky, however, and bound up in the usual RIOC secrecy.

While snubbing less credulous local media, RIOC’s acting president/CEO pitched a press release to AMNY. The details are too skimpy and unchallenged to make them worth repeating here.

Over the weekend, workers cleaned the glass facing Main Street and frosted the windows for privacy. RIOC did the initial tear down and build out, ironically ignoring safety and coronavirus precautions, but refused answering when asked who is paying the bills.

Tearing out the old library, RIOC workers went without protective gear, and no building permits were posted.

What RIOC’s not saying about the rapid testing site…

Questions remain as does curiosity about why RIOC’s operating in secrecy. After all, what’s the point in shielding good works?

One thing we do know now is that Swift will use “rapid antigen” testing, generally considered the lease reliable because of a higher rate of false negatives. That is, a result showing up as virus free is not always accurate.

In other words, you can’t go anywhere confident that you are infected and capable of infecting family and friends. For one reader, that renders the tests nearly useless, but RIOC says nothing about their unreliability.

According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, “Positive results are usually highly accurate, but false positives can happen, especially in areas where very few people have the virus. Negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test.”

Other questions RIOC refuses to answer…

  • What’s the deal with Hudson-Related? This location is part of the Main Street Retail management contract. How is RIOC compensating them? With a history of suspicious deals between the two, explaining arrangements is in the community interest.
  • Beyond a new website, what is Swift Emergency Medical P.C.? What’s their history? How were they selected? Why has the state refused to even acknowledge the now publicly open partnership?
  • Testing and lab work may or may not be free, but to the degree that it is, someone has to pay the bills. Who? What’s RIOC’s arrangement?

Conclusion

This story will be updated, but for now, the greatest doubts are about the secrecy. If there’s nothing to hide, what’s the point?

While it’s true that, since the departure of Terrence McCauley, RIOC’s last communications professional, information has been spotty and far from thorough, gaps of this magnitude are troubling.

This is serious business. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, but the state seems concerned only with its own image. Not atypical, but weirder than weird because…

We took the trouble of making sure our elected officials and RIOC’s board were aware of the problems.

Not one of them stood up in support of the community.

But that’s how things work on Roosevelt Island, these days. In spite of countless declarations, respect for the folks who live here always ranks near the bottom.

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