Hospital Lab Staff Step Up to COVID-19 Challenge

A day in the life of the microbiology department
A day in the life of the microbiology department with physical distancing in place. (Front to Back): Cynthia Cright, Sarah Smith, Sarah Asselin, Mark Lysak, Wendy Gouliquer.

Originally puublished in the June 2020 edition of The Walleye (Thunder Bay’s Arts & Culture Magazine)

This year, National Medical Laboratory Week, April 26th through May 2nd, took place during some of the busiest times for labs across Canada. To highlight the important work that Medical Laboratory Assistants (MLAs) and Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLTs) are doing at our Hospital, Georgia Carr, Manager Laboratory Services, provides an inside look at a ’day in the life’ of people working in our lab.

”Our lab is extremely busy, operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year where thousands of patient specimens are collected each day  for testing. There are 2,500,000 tests performed annually. To put this volume into perspective, this translates to 6849 tests per day, 285 tests per hour, five tests per minute or one test every 12 seconds,” explains Carr and Aaron Skillen, Director, Imaging Administration.

The volume of tests processed impressive, and the process by which the specimens are procured and tested is quite complex. Proper blood collection requires skill. Trained MLAs are responsible for this task and for performing key pre-analytical checks to ensure proper sample quality. The MLTs, with the aid of state of the art instrumentation are able to then perform testing and issue final reports.

Carr also shared some facts about the lab at our Hospital. Did you know that approximately 85% of a patients’ electronic medical record is made up of diagnostic test results? Here is some of the testing that takes place in a lab:

  • Biochemistry – The testing of analytes to aid in the diagnosis of pregnancy, diabetes, etc.
  • Hematology – The study of cells to diagnose anemia or clotting disorders
  • Transfusion Medicine – The infusion of blood products for patients, i.e., a unit of blood
  • Microbiology – The growing of organisms to determine if a patient has an infection and/or requires antibiotics
  • Histology, Cytology, and Autopsy – The removal of tissue from the body for diagnosis of cancer, etc.

The unprecedented experience of the COVID-19 pandemic does not mean existing tests stopped. Rather, the lab staff, like staff in other areas of our Hospital, stepped up to the challenge. Staff continue to follow proper infection and prevention control while using additional personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect both themselves and the patients. Carr says, “Even with COVID-19 positive and negative areas of the Hospital, lab staff are using universal precautions and treating any patient as potentially infectious.”

The biggest change to laboratory services was the addition of COVID-19 testing, which involved having the Virology scope added to our Hospital’s lab license through the Ministry of Health, as well as the test. New equipment platforms were purchased and installed. Wendy Gouliquer (pictured), Microbiology Coordinator, lead the team as an expert in her field, to ensure testing was available to patients in Northwestern Ontario. Carr shared that the test orders for COVID-19 increase daily. Over 100 COVID-19 swabs are collected every day and that volume is expected to rise. Currently, the lab performs 15 in-house tests daily, with the results available within a few hours. Georgia and her team ensure the remainder of the tests are sent to the Public Health Ontario Laboratory in Toronto and the results are returned in approximately two to four days. Ideally, our Hospital will increase the amount of in-house testing once supply chain issues are resolved.

“Performing the COVID-19 tests on top of the existing 2.5 million tests that are done annually demonstrates that the lab staff are an extremely dedicated group of individuals who continue to work hard around the clock to help our patients. I have never been more proud of my staff,” shares Carr.

Thank-you to all of the Medical Laboratory Assistants and Medical Laboratory Technologists in our Hospital and throughout Northwestern Ontario.