Whitehead

Lab Team - Everyday Extraordinary

MORE THAN A LAB
A skillful team getting test results in hours instead of days

The daily work of immunology lab employees is a critical building block in the foundation of any healthcare system, but it doesn’t often generate headlines. That changed as COVID-19 began spreading throughout the country. University Health System realized rapid, reliable testing would be necessary to protect its frontline workers and first responders.

Preventing crisis by planning

The immunology team didn’t wait for crisis to strike. With its partners at UT Health San Antonio, it increased the testing capacity of its Panther lab equipment. It ordered two new cobas systems specifically designed to test for viruses and process larger quantities of COVID-19 tests.

With increased capacity and skill, the team decreased the turnaround time for test results to just a few hours, rather than several days. That allowed doctors to act more quickly to treat those who tested positive for COVID-19.

Then, in early June, the lab team’s planning allowed it to help fight the coronavirus beyond its own facilities.

Serving the community and the state

Coronavirus was spreading like Texas wildfire, and the state was struggling to quickly process a growing backlog of the coronavirus tests. It turned to University Health System for help. With its expanded capacity, the lab team met the challenge, providing timely results for an average of 500 Texans a day.

“During a global pandemic, the availability of accurate mass testing enables us to provide proper care and medically respond, which is vital to control the spread,” said Stephanie Whitehead, the executive director of pathology services. “(With the cobas equipment) our laboratory has a very powerful tool which can serve as a first line of defense against COVID-19 in our state,” she said.

Demanding the accuracy needed for quality care

For Whitehead’s team accuracy was job #1. They leaned on science and engaged a healthy dose of skepticism as they evaluated the accuracy for each new test. They did not hesitate to reject the substandard ones.

“We had to be prepared to make the best recommendations to our medical team,” said Whitehead. “That’s what they deserve.”

From March through June, the University Health System lab processed nearly 30,000 tests. And, thanks to the lab’s quick work, asymptomatic patients awaiting surgery could be efficiently tested and doctors could again perform their elective procedures.

Tirelessly dedicated to the patients

To handle the exponential increase in their workload, lab employees sometimes put in 12- to 16-hour days, weeks on end without a break. With doctors and nurses they served on the front lines, making sure the hospital had what it needed to take care of its patients.

“I’m so proud to come in and work with this team,” Whitehead said. “There’s not another hospital I’d want to work at in this time. We’re making such a huge impact on the community.

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