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Living the Lab Life During a Pandemic

Since the pandemic arrived in our region in March 2020, one of the questions that has dominated just about every aspect of our daily lives is: “Am I positive or negative for COVID-19?”

The answer to that question can be life changing for our patients, our people and our community as a whole. The CVPH Laboratory team dedicates itself to providing answers to that question and a long list of others 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Lab Manager for Microbiology and Quality at CVPH Dianne Farnsworth believes all 117 members of the Lab have been on the front lines of this unprecedented public health crisis from day one.

“We are caring for the patient,” Farnsworth noted. “We look at it this way: behind every single specimen, there is a person that may require care. We provide the information that’s needed to help determine what kind of care that person needs.”

Area Performing Tests

Tests Performed

Anatomic Pathology

42,566

Chemistry

1,807,3356

Hematology

1,019,363

Microbiology

96,537

And there have been a lot of specimens to look at in the CVPH Lab. Nearly 3 million tests were performed in 2020, and that does not include the more than 81,000 COVID-19 tests collected or processed over the past 15 months.

The CVPH Laboratory is headquartered on the 3rd floor of the Miner Medical Arts Building, where skilled professionals receive and process the specimens. The department also includes blood draw areas in the Main hospital, the Diagnostic Center, Valcour Imaging and at Hudson Headwaters Champlain.

The Adirondack Regional Blood Center, charged with maintaining an adequate blood supply for hospitals in Elizabethtown, Malone, Massena, Saranac Lake and Glens Falls as well as Plattsburgh, is also part of the department.   That team processed 6,161 donors in 2020. The blood bank also transfused:

  • 2,190 units of red blood cells
  • 223 units of plasma
  • 270 units of platelets
  • 19 units of cryoprecipitate (blood product used to prevent or control bleeding in people whose blood does not clot properly)

“These are numbers that are probably really hard for people to wrap their brains around,” Blood Bank and Donor Center Manager Christi Beck said. “But there’s so much that goes into every test, every blood donation and every transfusion.”

Beck and Farnsworth described the painstaking work their team does behind the scenes to ensure patients and the care teams get reliable results. This includes:

  • Collecting specimens
  • Processing specimens
  • Analyzing tests
  • Packaging samples for tests done off site
  • Communicating test results

Laboratories are highly regulated to ensure quality and consistency, which means every member of the team meticulously follows steps and guidelines to the letter so that their work meets the highest of standards. They are trained in handling all varieties of specimens, always with safety in mind. Everyone in the Lab knows the stakes are high and that even the smallest mistake could be a big problem for a patient, Farnsworth said.

“That’s the thing. At the forefront of their minds all the time is that what they do every day is about the patient,” she added.

One of the biggest challenges, Farnsworth pointed out, is that there is an unrelenting urgency to everything the team does. While COVID-19 became an important priority, patients still needed many other tests for everything from cancer to routine bloodwork. Specimens never stopped coming from doctor offices, Valcour Imaging, CVPH Health Plaza, the COVID-19 testing center and the main campus of the hospital. In some cases, Lab staff members were driving specimens from those locations to the Lab to make sure they were tested in a timely manner. Early in the pandemic this included driving COVID specimens to the New York State Department of Health Labs in Albany. It all added up to many 12-hour shifts and, at times, 6 or 7 day work weeks to meet the continued demand.

It has also meant a possibility for exposure to COVID-19. Beck said phlebotomists, decked out in appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), have drawn blood from patients who were sick with the virus while in isolation in the hospital. The Lab team have been integral parts of the area’s COVID-19 testing initiative, swabbing patients with and without symptoms of COVID-19.

Tests are a part of life for the CVPH Laboratory team. But in the midst of a public health crisis unlike any other in the past century, the Lab staff have also been tested in ways they never dreamed of.

“Everyone basically just sees the final result of all the work they do,” Farnsworth offered. “But that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. We’re just so proud of how they’ve adapted and adjusted. We have folks who have put in very long hours just to help us cover. Folks who have been willing to learn how to collect COVID-19 swabs, knowing the risks to themselves and their loved ones before we had vaccinations. They’ve worked so well together. And we know that effort has been repeated everywhere in the organization, not just the Lab.”

“Make no mistake. It’s been a very hard year-plus,” Beck added. “But despite the long hours, the stress and the exhaustion, we have a great group of people who are passionate about what they do. This team is absolutely dedicated to our patients and making sure they get the right care based on the test results our lab provides. We do a lot of good here.”