Amid all the current coronavirus craziness, it’s sometimes overwhelming to try to figure out a way to help. That’s especially true for major automakers. You’ve read about GM working with its suppliers to make ventilators, Ford making powered air-purifying respirators, F1 teams making breathing apparatuses, and more. On Friday, Hyundai stepped up with a $2.2 million donation to 11 children’s hospitals across the U.S. to provide drive-thru coronavirus testing for kids who are already getting cancer treatments.
“They’re much more vulnerable” said Dr. Charles Golden, a pediatrician and the VP and executive medical director at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, California, one of the benefactors of the Hyundai grant. “(COVID-19) is predominantly a disease that is much more severe in older persons, but children also have a harder time with it if they have underlying medical conditions, so if they are immunocompromised because they’re on anticancer medications that inhibit their immune systems, they can certainly be much more vulnerable to this.”
The testing centers are a relatively small part of Hyundai’s longtime commitment to helping find a cure for children’s cancer. In 1998, Hyundai and its dealers started a charity called Hope On Wheels, which has since given more than $170 million toward childhood cancer research.
The drive-thru centers are the result of the most recent of those grants. The centers represent the best way to test those at-risk kids while limiting their potential contact with the virus by keeping them outside hospitals or doctor offices.
At Children’s Hospital of Orange County, children’s families can make an appointment and get a preevaluation from a pediatrician, who will determine if a coronavirus test is warranted and authorize an appointment at the drive-thru clinic. It’s much safer for a child whose immune system may already be compromised by cancer treatment.
“In that circumstance, they’re confined to their car, they don’t have to get out, and it’s much more convenient,” said Golden. “Our pediatricians and providers can do a full exam of these patients without them ever having to get out of their car. We can look in their ears, we can look at their mouth, we can listen to their heart and lungs. We can make full assessments, we can test them for different viral pathogens, we can test them for strep throat, we can even give them breathing treatments.”
Each of the 11 children’s hospitals nationwide has different setups for the drive-in or drive-thru testing.
“Right now, we have something that we call the Outdoor Evaluation Center,” Golden said. “We have a surge tent and a mobile asthma clinic, a mobile asthma van that is set up in our associate health parking lot. Patients can be referred there by our primary care/specialty care practices or after a telehealth visit through our … hotline.”
Children’s Hospital of Orange County has plans to expand its drive-in clinic soon, as do the other 10 hospitals across the country that benefitted from the Hyundai grant. Here are the 11 children’s hospitals receiving Hyundai COVID-19 Drive-Thru Testing grants:
1. The Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s, Orange, California
2. UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s, Cleveland
3. Children’s National Hospital, Washington, D.C.
4. Dana Farber / Boston Children’s Hospital
5. Seattle Children’s Hospital
6. Columbia Medical Center, New York
7. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, Tampa, Florida
8. Children’s Hospital of Colorado, Aurora, Colorado
9. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
10. Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston
11. University of Alabama Children’s, Birmingham, Alabama
As with so many hospitals addressing the new virus, the limiting factor is often simply getting enough test kits. The bottleneck is the availability of reagents (the chemical or compound used in a reaction) and machines for PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, which processes the samples collected at the drive-thrus to determine the presence of COVID-19.
“(The samples are) processed in the machine. It’s pretty high-tech actually. But, you know, this PCR machine, this technology is such that once the test is developed, it can be replicated and run very quickly. It’s pretty much standard of care now, for a lot of different types of viral and bacterial DNA testing,” said Golden.
Ideally there would be more of these machines and reagents at more hospitals so that samples could be processed on-site, with results in about an hour instead of the 10 days it takes to send the sample to a lab. It’s possible that more of these machines and reagents could be made available soon.
When Hyundai gave this round of money to the hospitals, it did not specify exactly how it was to be spent, other than that it was to go for drive-thru testing facilities. Without the money, hospitals would have to draw on already limited resources.
“Any help the CHOC Children’s and other health care systems can get from donors at this time of crisis is very much appreciated and absolutely essential in our ability to provide much-needed care to the community,” Golden said. “Because of state and local ordinances and our desire to participate in social distancing and elimination of nonessential activities in order to ‘flatten the curve,’ we are looking at alternative ways to provide care to our patients without having them come into the office. This not only includes their visiting the OEC, but also providing visits via a telehealth platform which people can access on their computers or personal devices. These new services come with startup costs and uncertain reimbursement but are essential to the health of our communities, and we are proud to be able to provide our region with them. With that in mind, any and all help is appreciated and essential as we make these changes to the way we deliver care, and we appreciate our partners at Hyundai for donating to the cause.”
With the doctor’s time running out we asked one last question. Do they give preference to people who arrive at the clinic in Hyundai vehicles?
“Ha ha ha ha,” said the doctor. “All are welcome.”
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