Montana’s Public Health Lab is a hive of activity on a normal day, but since COVID-19 has hit the State, the Clinical Laboratory Specialists (CLS’s) in the Department of Public Health and Human Services – Laboratory Services Bureau have stepped up their game considerably in the last several weeks. The Laboratory stood up a new test and has provided on-going testing services in order to support Montana’s planning and response to the current outbreak of the virus. These highly educated and certified analysts are an asset to Montana and its citizens. Though you may not have known they existed, they deserve many thanks for the work they are doing to help keep all Montana safe.
The Laboratory Services Bureau of DPHHS is a partner in the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) of laboratories across the United States that has been tasked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with gaining expertise in testing and preparing to respond to emergencies and acts of terrorism. Through relationships with other states, and the CDC, the capacity to respond and run specific tests has been built over many years. The CDC/LRN provided instrumentation, required the CLS’s to gain specific education to; run current methods, develop new testing, and prove competence annually. Without this expertise we could not have responded this quickly to the need for testing Montana citizens for COVID-19.
Our CLS’s practice responding with other state labs and the CDC in order to prepare for potential situations that would require our expertise and experience. The CLS’s practice to help Montana and the nation to identify emergent situations and help the state and federal governments respond accordingly. The CLS’s practice to be ready and though they cannot prepare for every situation the practice has been a valuable asset to Montana in our current situation. Montana’s response to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, that has sickened and killed many Americans, has required the expertise and experience of these valuable union public employees.
The state’s response has required that a test be developed, testing be done quickly, and results be reported in a timely manner to the Governor and health officials. State decision making has hinged on knowing where and when the virus hit our state. Tracking the progress and growth of positive cases has helped the Governor, local and county officials, and the federal government to assess the extent of the outbreak and to proactively plan for changing conditions.
Without these Public Employees’ experience and expertise our state would not have been able to ramp up needed testing protocols and respond as quickly as necessary to reduce the number new infections. Reducing the number of newly infected is a priority of the response and planning. Flattening the cure of the outbreak must happen in order to protect our healthcare system, facilities, nurses, and doctors from getting overwhelmed. Healthcare systems being overwhelmed has caused many deaths in other countries dealing with the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19.
The atmosphere in the Laboratory Services Bureau is filled with dogged purpose by those performing testing and offers of help from those of us that cannot. We try to do anything we can to support those performing testing. The Laboratory Manager is providing up to the minute communication to the department to facilitate local and state discussions on response and planning efforts. Supervisors manage expectations and shifting needs. Our Administrative Office personnel work on obtaining and maintaining supplies needed for testing. Technicians and lab workers continue other testing responsibilities in the Laboratory. Our Environmental Laboratory Chemists help with mail-out of transport media for testing and receiving supplies. Our Internal Support office is accessioning samples and reporting results. There were initially 4 CLS’s capable of running tests. Now training of other CLS’s is ongoing in order to spread the workload. Instrumentation is a bit limited but the laboratory has not hit the daily capacity for numbers of tests completed since expanding hours of operation. The CLS’s maintain all quality assurance and control requirements for testing, assuring the accuracy of tests performed. Weekend shifts, early mornings, and late nights are now the norm. Laboratory Services Bureau employees are doing all we can to turn test results around within 24 hours to ensure patients are notified by their healthcare providers of their status as soon as possible.
It takes all of us union employees collectively working together on behalf of all Montanans. The expertise and experience of these amazing public employees working for the State of Montana has allowed our state to respond quickly and appropriately. They do Work that Matters for Montana!
– Sen. Jill Cohenour