Designed with efficiency, safety in mind

PVH’s new laboratory opening next month houses technology that will streamline processes, increase capacity and ensure quality results
January 26th, 2017

WASP, VITROS 5600, Maldi and BSL3. These terms mean nothing to most people. But to the scientists at UCHealth, they mean rapid, high-quality lab results plus the utmost in patient and employee safety — all part of the new laboratory at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.

Located in the lower level of PVH’s recently completed expansion — which also includes a new emergency department, orthopedics unit and retail pharmacy — is a new laboratory that boasts state-of-the-art equipment that will bring expanded services to northern Colorado.

“UCHealth has always done an excellent job in thinking ahead and investing in the cutting-edge technology that provides for lean processes and improvements in patient care,” said Robyn Sorrell, UCHealth’s director of laboratory services for northern Colorado.

In part, what will make the new laboratory more efficient and able to handle higher volumes is automated lines — the WASP and Vitros 5600 — for both the microbiology and chemistry areas.

“Where our staff had to manually run tests or move specimens for multiple testing, that is now more automated,” Sorrell said.

WASP — its full name, Walk-Away Specimen Processor, almost says it all — takes a current manual process like plating specimens and automates it.

“When you are receiving hundreds of specimens in a short time frame this is an amazing piece of equipment,” Sorrell said.

And the VITROS 5600 is like three instruments in one, she added.

A scientist trains on a new tool in a lab.
PVH Medical Laboratory Scientist Maryann May trains on the new Phadia 250 analyzer in PVH’s new lab. The Phadia 250 analyzer, the industry’s gold standard and preferred physician platform, performs a wide range of allergy testing and more than 20 autoimmune-related diseases. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

“Once the samples are loaded into the racks, it moves each sample down the line, loads it onto the analyzer for us, performs the tests, moves it down the line again and then automatically puts it in the refrigerator,” Sorrell said. “It allows our staff, who are all medical lab scientists, to concentrate on what they are trained to do instead of just moving specimens around.”

And the less specimens are moved around, the faster lab results come back, she added

New kid on the block

An emerging microbiology technology for identification and diagnosis is making its first UCHealth appearance in northern Colorado. The MALDI-Tof Mass Spectrometer, or MALDI for short, can more rapidly detect such things as blood and urinary-tract pathogens. The device is already being used at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, but now the northern region will also have the benefit of a MALDI.

“Historically, we had to wait for microbiology culture results because you have to allow organisms to grow and then run biochemical testing,” said Jennifer Bovaird, supervisor of PVH’s microbiology laboratory. “But with MALDI, as soon as we see an organism on the plate, we can perform identification.”

Because MALDI can quickly identify unique protein expressions, it can provide results in as little as 18 hours, much faster than the typical 48 hours.

The preferred platform

Allergy testing will be another expanded service at the PVH lab when it opens in February.

“The new platform provides a wide variety of testing and is the method preferred by physicians,” Sorrell said.

The Phadia 250 analyzer performs a wide range of testing for allergies and more than 20 autoimmune-related diseases. It is the industry’s gold standard and used by leading health systems such as the Mayo Clinic, said Kelly Pautvein, the lead chemistry medical lab scientist at PVH.

The new system allows UCHealth to process test results in-house. UCHealth Memorial Hospital and UCH will be sending their allergy testing to the PVH lab as well.

“This gives us the capability to grow and build that platform,” Pautvein said.

Worst of the worst

PVH’s new lab also will have the capability to handle highly infectious bacteria — like tuberculosis — in its Biosafety Level Three laboratory.

Work with biohazardous agents is strictly controlled, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health set guidelines that rate lab biosafety on a scale of one to four. They require such things as a specially designed room, specific ventilation systems and trained staff.

UCHealth leaders, and the employees who provided input into all areas of the lab, had this in mind when designing the new lab, Bovaird added.

“For us to locally be able to make the upgraded conversion to a BSL3 laboratory is a testing turnaround time benefit for our patients while maintaining the safety of our staff,” Bovaird said.

In its entirety

“It’s more than just better technology,” Sorrell continued. “From the blood bank with its own tube system that allows it to transfer blood products to and from any area of the hospital quickly, to the open floor plan that allows for visual cues between areas and promotes a collaborative environment, the entire laboratory was designed with efficiency in mind and the utmost in patient and employee safety.”

Currently, the new equipment is being tested and calibrated. In mid-February, UCHealth staff will transition into the new lab, bringing expanded services to northern Colorado.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.