Sanford’s central lab adapts to flurry of COVID-19 testing

At 50,000 tests and counting, lab moves quickly to 'go where care is needed'

Lab technician in protective face shild, mask and gown processes coronavirus tests at Sanford Laboratories.

Recently, Sanford Health performed its 50,000th COVID-19 diagnostic test.

It took a flurry of work to reach that milestone — including a well-timed construction project finished just when it was needed most.

Sanford Laboratories Reference Lab in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, performs the majority of this COVID-19 testing. Accustomed to providing esoteric and non-rapid-response diagnostic lab testing, some services include allergy testing, autoimmune testing and infectious disease testing.

Sanford Laboratories serves not only Sanford Health sites and the The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society. It also works as a “one-stop shop for diagnostic services” for smaller hospitals, clinics and providers. Having a central location for these types of testing can help lower costs, maintain high quality and ensure timeliness, according to Dan Ingemansen, senior director at Sanford Laboratories.

Then along came COVID-19. In March — the month after the reference lab moved from the hospital campus into its newly designed space at the Sanford Center — the lab became the sole COVID-19 testing site for the Sanford Health enterprise.

Making it all work

Dan Inegemansen head shot
Dan Inegemansen

“It’s been a crazy chain of events,” Ingemansen said. But as their volume of tests soared, his team readily adapted.

Relationships already established with manufacturers helped the Sanford laboratory work up to now four different platforms to perform COVID-19 testing.

Laboratorians’ work schedules changed dramatically as the first analyzer started running tests 24 hours a day, at 400 tests a day. Additional laboratorians from Sanford Clinic shifted to the lab to help, too, along with scientists from Sanford Imagenetics.

Ingemansen thinks Sanford Health’s courier network, which transports samples from testing sites in four states to the Sioux Falls lab seven days a week, has probably doubled its transportation miles. Those number in the millions each year.

He credits the front line staff, too, for working with patients at the drive-thru testing sites, “sitting out there either in the freezing cold or the blistering sun.”

Everyone involved in testing has contributed to Sanford Health’s average of 36 hours from collection to results, Ingemansen said of the non-rapid test results. “Not many other places with this type of equipment have gone to the extent that we are to make sure that we can provide high-quality testing in a timely manner to our providers.”

Now, the lab processes an average of 1,200 tests a day. Ingemansen expects a significant need for COVID-19 testing to continue. As supplies become more readily available, he’d like to shift more of the test analyzing closer to the bedside. “That’s where we can make decisions on care and treatment while protecting our employees from exposure,” he said.

Working rapidly

Developments have come quickly for Ingemansen’s team. It took just four days to have the first testing up and running at the Reference Lab after the manufacturer received FDA approval for the diagnostic test.

And the time to go from the notion of creating a mobile lab to putting one to use at two temporary testing sites spanned just weeks. “It takes a village,” along with industry partners, to accomplish something like that, Ingemansen said.

Now, in a partnership with the PGA, three Sanford Health mobile labs plan to head out to do COVID-19 testing on golfers, caddies and staff across the U.S. They’ll help provide safe conditions during preparations for PGA Tour, PGA Tour of Champions and Korn Ferry events.

It will offer a learning experience for the Sanford Health team on the road, Ingemansen expects. “The testing part is the known. Everything else they’re going to experience is so different,” he said.

But it serves as an example of the culture of adaptability and innovation that Sanford Health continually embraces.

“This is in our DNA at Sanford Health,” Ingemansen said. “When we look at how we operate as a health system, we go to where care is needed. And that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, News, Pathology, Sioux Falls

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