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Pima County spars with state over federal vaccination site, testing reimbursement
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Pima County spars with state over federal vaccination site, testing reimbursement

Chuck Huckelberry Pima County administrator

Pima County is at odds with the state over its refusal to add a federally run vaccination site in Southern Arizona as well as its continued denial to reimburse the county for its COVID-19 testing costs incurred during the height of the pandemic.

The state has turned down an offer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up a vaccination site in Pima County that would add up to 336,000 doses on top of the state’s allocation.

On Friday, Dr. Cara Christ, state health department director, said the only way the state could receive additional vaccines is with a fixed FEMA-run vaccination site. However, she said the state would have to extend resources to the federal center without much control over how it is operated.

“Those states with federal sites, including California, have not fared as well,” Christ said. “They still needed us to be able to staff it, to provide the resources for it, only we did not have the medical oversight or the managerial oversight of these sites.”

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the county would have split the FEMA vaccines between vaccination centers at the Kino Event Center and El Pueblo Center to better serve the county’s Hispanic population. He said the county has plenty of capacity to help run the sites.

“Pima County set up five regional vaccination centers without any assistance from the state,” Huckelberry said. “We were fully prepared to provide all of the support services and systems needed to operate a federal POD.”

The county administrator said the county still plans to open the sites as walk-in vaccination centers and has not heard anything from the state on a reconsideration of FEMA’s proposal.

The Board of Supervisors is set to revisit the issue at an emergency meeting Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the county continues to spar with the state over reimbursement for the thousands of tests it has paid for with its own general fund dollars.

In late January, Arizona received more than $418 million through the CDC’s Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity program for coronavirus testing. The funding was part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act passed by Congress in December.

On Feb. 19, the state health department announced it would release $100 million of the funds to Arizona’s counties to support testing costs. Pima County was allocated $14.4 million but has yet to receive the money.

The state is refusing to reimburse the county for the $7.6 million it has paid for testing from Dec. 21 to Jan. 15. Huckelberry called this an “arbitrary decision” and said the state has not explained its reasoning.

In a March 16 letter, Christ wrote: “I recognize and appreciate Pima County’s support of free testing to all residents, but reiterate the fact that ADHS will not be providing additional funding beyond what we have previously discussed, nor have we previously committed to do so.”

The county has since petitioned at the federal level to try to access the funds.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, the county’s public health director, sent a letter to Dr. José Montero, the CDC’s director of the Center for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, asking for his “guidance and assistance” in appealing to the state to distribute funds to the county for the time period in question.

The supervisors entered into a $33 million contract March 16 to continue funding the county’s free testing program using money from the December federal relief package. Huckelberry said the county will use these dollars until they run out of funds and stop the testing program.

Contact Nicole Ludden at

nludden@tucson.com. On Twitter:

@nicolemludden


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