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New lab coming to Essentia Health-Virginia
Photo: Lab staff and technicians had a chance to walk through a mock-up to see how the design would work. It allowed them to make a variety of minor changes.
The clinic and hospital laboratories at Essentia Health-Virginia are getting Lean.
A new $1.1 million 2,800-square-foot Lean Lab is currently under construction at the hospital site and will open on Dec. 1. The staffs and functions of both the clinic and the hospital laboratories will join together in a great room-type lab space.
“We just recently became Essentia (formerly Virginia Regional Medical Center) on Jan. 1, and the clinic lab and hospital lab have always been separate. Once we became the same, one lab was what made sense,” explained Laboratory Manager Laura Witschen.
Adjacent to the gift shop’s present location in the hospital, the new lab will feature a small waiting area with better climate control and increased privacy for patients and their families. Patients having tests done in the clinic will have their lab samples sent to the hospital through a pneumatic tube system.
The hospital entrance from the Virginia Convalescent Center patio will be closed due to the lab’s centralized location. During the new lab’s construction, however, Virginia Convalescent Center residents will have continued access to the outdoor patio by using an alternate entrance.
Patients and visitors may use the hospital’s western entrance next to the Iron Range Rehabilitation Center. Emergency room patients and visitors can still use the hospital’s east entrance. Volunteers and hospital staff will be available to help direct people during the new lab’s construction.
The project represents a 20-year-old dream that’s finally becoming realized. Voicing both teams’ anticipation, Witschen said, “Now that they’ve started (building), people are getting excited. Everybody’s responsibilities are changing on both sides, and we’re going to need everyone.”
Each facility’s lab currently is in its respective building, and a parking lot separates the two. The new joint lab will be located in the hospital, with the installation of a pneumatic tube system for faster physical transfer of lab samples between facilities.
Witschen described the current hospital lab as set up like a long train, “with separate little rooms.” That old-school model required lab staff to go from room to room, even building to building. The Lean Lab is based on the highly successful streamlined Japanese manufacturing system. Laboratory technicians will perform lab procedures in a single large space.
“They’ll have a central core area” in which 80 percent of testing will be done, Witschen said. “Because it’s so close together, it could be run by one or two techs” as opposed to having a couple in one room and more in another. Emphasizing the Lean Lab concept, she said, “It’s just basically preserving value with less work and less waste, and our turnaround times will be much quicker.”
“Oftentimes we’ll get one or two samples from a patient, and multiple tests will be run on those one or two samples,” noted Dr. M. Kent Froberg, a staff pathologist and the laboratory director at Essentia Health-Virginia. “It makes sense to essentially have a system in which the samples can go (directly) from one test to the next. You don’t have people moving from one room to the next.”
As the clinic and hospital labs merge their staff and workloads, there will be continuity of quality service and patient care.
“There shouldn’t be any stop in patient care as far as testing goes,” Witschen said. “We’ve been working on the pieces to get to that point and putting all those pieces together. We’ll still need (all of) the staff that we have.”
Combining the staffing, functions and work space for separate teams is nothing new to Essentia Health.
“The good thing is that Essentia has been through this process many times, and they’ve worked out a model for doing it,” Froberg said.
Noting the value of shared procedures and computer systems, Froberg said “There are advantages to having uniformity in protocol that’s across Essentia hospitals and clinics in terms of buying whatever supplies are needed and the technical testing that’s done.” He added, “Due to pressure on the federal and state governments to cut money for Medicare and Medicaid, we can save a lot of money, and that’s vitally important.”
With Essentia training assistance and on-site support staff, lab technicians from both facilities will be familiarized with the newer systems and instrumentation. They had the opportunity in August to do a walkthrough of a lab mockup. Like the new lab space itself, it covered 2,800 square feet.
“It was both clinic staff and hospital staff, everybody coming together and deciding how it’s best going to work,” Witschen said. “We could actually walk through, and that was huge because we made a lot of changes from the first mock lab.”
“It’s a good thing that we’re coming together in a new lab. We’re not strangers to each other because we’ve known each other over the years. It’s everybody’s new lab, and it’s going to be a huge plus,” she added.
“This new lab – it’s a necessity. Modernizing the lab facilities is long overdue. It should greatly enhance how we do medicine here, improving their people’s health and their outcomes when they do get sick.
“Whether they work in one big room or divided up rooms with slightly different staff, they’re all healthcare professionals,” he said.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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