NOCHS Frontline Workers – Lab & Pharmacy

We’ve all heard and talked about the role of frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to actually be one of those people?

Today, we would like to highlight our hospital laboratory and pharmacy departments. Both are just as important as our nurses and doctors and work just as hard to ensure that our community is safe. Here’s just a little bit about what they have been working through during the coronavirus pandemic.

Our lab staff has been incredible throughout the COVID pandemic. As Laboratory Manager Nicole Kamp can tell you, information management has been one of the biggest challenges. “Things change daily, sometimes even hourly!” she notes. “Keeping up with the most current reporting procedures and testing options is a full-time job.”

Our lab staff cares deeply about this community, and it shows in their work. They have processed more than 17,000 COVID tests since March of 2020. Much of that work involves collecting the samples as well as running the tests back in the lab. “We want everyone who has a provider order for a test to be able to get one,” Nicole says. “We’ve actually taken on the overflow role for neighboring communities to ensure that essential testing is done in a timely manner.”

As requirements for the vaccine started becoming more specific, the lab also had to adapt to this new business requirement. “We have the ultra-cold freezer for other products, so we made room for the Pfizer vaccine,” Nicole notes. “It was pretty funny…our staff cleared out a bunch of shelf space, anticipating the room that our first 975 doses would need. The shipment came in layer after layer of packaging, wired for temperature and security. We had smoke from the dry ice billowing around as we unpacked each layer. But in the end, all those doses of vaccine fit in something like a pizza box!”

When it comes to the COVID vaccine, the NOCHS pharmacy plays a prominent role. “We store the vaccine under lock and key,” says Lisa Tyjewski, Pharmacy Manager. “The temperature is electronically monitored around the clock, and we take manual temperature readings twice daily to make sure the freezer stays between -60 and -80 degrees Celsius.” For added security, the freezer has restricted, locked access. “Every time we open it we log the reason, the time and the person,” Lisa notes. “And of course, we are keeping a strict vial count.”

The scheduling of vaccines is another science altogether. Each vial requires 30 minutes to defrost so that it can be diluted for vaccinations, and then it yields anywhere from 5-7 doses. Those doses must be used within a specific time frame. This means the pharmacy has to make sure they have matched people and doses so that every available dose is used. As if that was not complicated enough, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines requires a first shot, then a booster shot at a precisely timed interval. There’s a lot of paperwork and scheduling involved in this process. And then of course, there are all the staff needed to administer the vaccine to each person.

The point of the vaccine is to help people build immunity.  No surprise, there’s a lot of lab work involved in that, too! “People want to know they are safe, and the best way to know for sure is to run a doctor-ordered antibody test,” says Nicole.  “I’m anticipating that later in the year, after all these vaccines are administered, we’re going to have a significant round of testing back in the lab to confirm it has worked.”

So the next time you’re thinking about frontline workers, make sure you give a shout-out to the pharmacy and lab workers that have worked tirelessly to help keep our community safe. They are an integral part of the health system’s ongoing response to COVID.



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