The Look in Brief

State ends no-bid contract with contact tracing firm, $65 million poorer

By: - February 7, 2022 6:15 am
Xtend Healthcare in Hendersonville, had no experience with contact tracing when it scored its first state contract for $20 million. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Xtend Healthcare in Hendersonville, had no experience with contact tracing when it scored its first state contract for $20 million. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The state of Tennessee has wound down its contact tracing contract with Xtend Healthcare, a for profit medical billing firm hired in June 2020 through a no-bid contract in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic as state resources quickly became overwhelmed.

Over the course of 19 months, the contract with the Hendersonville-based company — a subsidiary of Naviant, the former student loan servicer — was extended by the Tennessee Department of Health five times. By Jan. 31, the end-date of the last extension, state officials had paid the company $65 million, according to the state Department of General Services.

Separately, the state announced in January it entered into a settlement with Naviant for approximately $50 million, after Tennessee joined 38 other states in suing the company over deceptive practices in its handling of student loans. “Navient’s practices harmed Tennesseans trying to improve their lives through an education,” Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said in a news release announcing the settlement on Jan. 13.

State health officials have made no formal announcement of how they will handle contact tracing going forward.

Sarah Tanksley, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, said officials are currently reviewing recently released recommendations to states from a coalition of epidemiologist and public health groups that public health agencies to “transition our resources into more effective strategies to lessen the impact of COVID-19 by focusing surveillance and prevention efforts on the most severe outcomes of COVID-19: hospitalizations and deaths.:

“At this point in the pandemic, the public knows the appropriate actions they should take if they are COVID positive or suspect they have been exposed,” Tanksley said.  “States have the opportunity to transition to more effective and strategic approaches. As such, our universal contact tracing efforts will decrease significantly over the coming weeks and months with our efforts remaining on case investigations in more high-risk settings.”

The state’s contract with Xtend, a company with no prior epidemiology experience, was among a series of no-bid pandemic-related contracts that were scrutinized by Republican and Democratic lawmakers concerned about the lack of competitive bidding.

The vendor drew criticisms at times for its pandemic work. In November 2020, four Xtend contract tracing workers told WPLN- Nashville Public Radio of extended backups that led to some patients not being contacted until after their infectious periods had passed. And as the 2021-2022 school year got underway last fall, school officials and parents in Knoxville, Clarksville, Sumner County and elsewhere complained that the company had failed to provide timely notifications of positive cases to schools and families.



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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.