September is newborn screening awareness month. And one of the key components of Montana’s newborn screening program is the state courier system connected to the Montana Public Health Laboratory in Helena.
Medical Logistic Solutions, with locations in Billings and Bozeman, has the state contract that includes the majority of healthcare facilities with birthing centers in Montana. Drivers pick up the newborn screening blood samples from healthcare facilities and provide same-day delivery to the lab for testing, with coverage in more than 50 Montana cities.
Drivers pick up samples at a variety of times “Monday through Friday, excluding major holidays, from designated locations in Montana.” And according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services, blood samples are not able to be delivered to the lab on weekends, so the courier service does not operate on Saturday or Sunday, unless an emergency pickup is called in. The earliest regularly scheduled pickup time is made at 1 a.m., at St. James Hospital in Butte. The latest courier pickup time listed in the contract is 8:30 p.m., at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.
All hospitals that use MLS’ courier services have newborn blood samples scheduled for pickup once a day, except for St. James Hospital again, which has two daily scheduled pickup times. Most facilities collect the samples daily during the morning hours, while the most common pickup time is in the afternoon.
The sources of funding for this contract are: $10,000 a year from Montana state special revenue; a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Preparedness Grant; and an Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Grant.
DPHHS pays MLS on a monthly basis. Fifteen primary facilities have a per-day fee according to the contract. The total bill per day for these 15 primary locations is $499.55, per an amendment that increased the fees by 2 percent, effective July 1, 2015. In addition, 34 pickup locations at secondary facilities have pickup charges ranging from $45 to $160, per scheduled pickup. The current contract between Medical Logistic Solutions and DPHHS is set to expire June 30, 2016, unless renewed.
MLS is required to train its drivers in the safe transportation and handling of blood samples, including maintenance of the proper temperature and standards of privacy and confidentiality under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
The Montana Center for Investigative Reporting spoke to MLS’ Vice President of Operations, Jason Nye, just before Labor Day weekend and asked to schedule a future phone interview. Nye agreed to an interview the following Tuesday, but when MTCIR called back, Nye refused to do the interview, saying his boss advised him to provide no comment.
Eventually, Nye agreed to let MTCIR email him the questions we were planning to ask in the interview, saying he would provide answers to those questions no later than the end of the week.
When no response was received, MTCIR made several more attempts to contact Nye via email and phone to allow him, or any other MLS employee, to comment. None of our emails or voicemails for Nye have since been returned.
If you’re a parent with a child who has had a particularly good, or bad experience, with newborn screening in Montana, we would love to hear your story. Please fill out our contact form, or send us an email to: email@example.com.
This story was written with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.