While some Augusta Health employees have been redeployed to new departments or roles at Augusta Health, many have stayed in their home departments. They perform vital tasks still needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but most processes and procedures have been adapted to help manage and reduce the spread of the virus. Even the routine has been revised.
Allie Armstrong, a Medical Laboratory Scientist, has worked in the Augusta Health hospital laboratory for two years. The laboratory has several departments--chemistry, hematology, urinalysis, microbiology, and a blood bank.
As a generalist on second shift, Armstrong can work in all departments, so every day is a different experience. Some days, she is assigned to the chemistry department, where she performs testing on patients' blood and urine samples. The tests range from routine metabolic panels to urgent tests for diagnosis of a heart attack. On other days, she works in the hematology department, where she uses automated instrumentation and a microscope to analyze blood samples and help diagnose diseases such as anemia and blood cancers.
The automation line carries patient samples to clinical chemistry analyzers which are capable of performing up to 1,500 tests per hour, and then to stores sample for later use. This vastly improves efficiency. As with any technology, though, there is a potential for an instrument to experience a mechanical failure. A major aspect of Armstrong's job is to troubleshoot technical issues quickly to allow patient testing to resume. There are some days that she feels a bit more like a mechanic than a scientist, but she enjoys the challenge and reward that comes with fixing a problem.
"The most challenging aspect of my job is often the misconception of the medical laboratory scientist profession. It has taken years for even my own family to understand the work I do, because unlike doctors and nurses, the work of a laboratory professional is performed behind the scenes," says Armstrong.
With the recent uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the lab had to adapt quickly to ever-changing guidelines from the CDC and state health department regarding specimen collection and testing procedures to assure safety for patients during routine and emergency lab testing. Because of the challenge of supply and test kit shortages, the Augusta Health laboratory was able to implement a reliable in-house testing platform to help quickly diagnose COVID-19.
The laboratory is staffed 24 hours a day, and several new safety precautions have been implemented to ensure patients are safe while receiving the services they need. For example, the seating area in the outpatient laboratory has been arranged to comply with social distancing guidelines. All staff members are required to wear masks during patient interactions for the safety of both patients and employees. Patients should know that the existing practices of disinfecting the phlebotomy chairs after each patient and adherence to a strict hand washing protocol are being followed by all laboratory staff.
"I enjoy knowing that the work I do at Augusta Health is important in the diagnosing and treating people in the community in which I have lived my entire life," adds Armstrong.
Teresa Dinges RN, BSN, OMS, has worked at Augusta Health for 18 years. She is a wound and ostomy care nurse in the Wound Care Center.
During her typical day, she works with 8 to 15 in the Wound Care Center. Her caseload has not changed during COVID 19—the clinic continues to see just as many patients as they did before the pandemic. The Wound Care patient population deals with issues that require long-term, consistent care. Without this care, life- or limb-threatening complications that might require emergency intervention or hospitalization could result.
With COVID 19, the Wound Care Center has implemented several additional safety precautions for their patients. All patients are screened at the entrance for COVID-related symptoms, including a temperature check. The staff also provides reinforcement and education to their patients about preventing COVID 19. Staff is also screened as they enter the hospital at the start of each shift, and they wear masks while interacting with patients. Of course, they are diligent with hand-washing and the use of other PPE as needed.
"The feeling that I am making a difference in someone's life and improving their quality of life is very rewarding. It's great to celebrate with the patients when they are discharged from care," says Dinges.