Dedication and Innovation in Laboratory Services

Jacqueline Dube, Clinical Lab Scientist at Cheshire Medical Center
Jacqueline Dube, Clinical Lab Scientist at Cheshire Medical Center

Six days a week, patients come to Cheshire’s Laboratory Services for blood work to help ensure medication is at the right level, evaluate organ functions, or to diagnose or monitor a medical condition.

“We test the blood in-house for most things,” says Patricia Snow, MBA, MT(ASCP)SBB, the director of Cheshire’s laboratory. “Some more specific requests are sent to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for testing.”

Lead Phlebotomist Brice Morin says between 170 and 200 people a day come in for blood tests. Phlebotomists are the health care professionals who draw blood from patients and make sure the proper amount is taken and labeled.

Medical Director of the Clinical Laboratory and Pathologist Claire Fabian, MD, says Cheshire’s phlebotomists take the time to make sure patients are comfortable throughout the process.

“It can be very stressful having your blood taken— especially for children,” she says. “But they make everyone comfortable. Our phlebotomists have very good skills.”

In fact, some patients recently took to social media to share their enthusiasm for the team’s skills and compassion. When Tara Tinker and William Goyer, phlebotomists, were honored through Circle of Gratitude by the mother of a special needs patient, others echoed her praise.

After they draw the blood, it is sent to Central Processing, then to Cheshire’s Clinical Laboratory, or is distributed to a reference lab for testing.

But it’s not just blood that is sent for testing. Clinical lab scientists also assess other specimens, such as urine samples to help determine if someone might be suffering from kidney disease or a urinary tract infection and stool samples to diagnose digestive tract conditions.

Nearly 50 employees work in Laboratory Services—from the phlebotomists who interact directly with patients to those who process and test the specimens. With the extreme increase in demand during COVID-19, all of them were put to the test.

In the Clinical Lab, “due to COVID testing needs, we became chemists overnight when we had to develop our own viral transport media needed to collect samples for COVID testing, because the demand for testing created a shortage of supplies,” Dr. Fabian says.

In short order, the lab was evaluating 150 to 250 samples for COVID every day and has kept or exceeded that pace, testing nasopharyngeal swabs and, most recently, saliva samples.

In addition, says Dr. Fabian, everyone who comes in to the Emergency Department showing symptoms of a respiratory illness can be tested for 19 different viruses, including COVID-19, and bacteria, using BioFire, a respiratory pathogen panel test.

“If a patient doesn’t present with a respiratory illness, we still test, but just for COVID-19,” says Dr. Fabian.

Throughout the pandemic, says Snow, the folks in Laboratory Services have kept their focus on patient care.

“They are all wonderful,” she says. “They have taken on so much extra work and have been extremely responsive. They are incredibly dedicated.”

“Laboratory people are very accustomed to change and adaptation,” says Dr. Fabian. “Despite the challenges of the past two years, professionally and personally, they get the job done.”

With the recent surge of COVID-19 in our community, Cheshire’s lab has been busier than ever. While a positive result from rapid at-home antigen tests can be trusted, they can still be hard to find and the PCR tests evaluated by our lab are sensitive enough to accurately detect asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infection.

“As our lab services continue to be in high demand and we plan for expansion, we are looking for great people to join our team,” says Snow. “Meticulous clinical lab scientists and skilled phlebotomists of all experience levels will find opportunities to grow and innovate on our team. It’s an exciting time to work in health care.”

To learn more about career opportunities at Cheshire Medical Center, visit our Careers page. To honor staff via Circle of Gratitude, visit the Cheshire Health Foundation.