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Health Care
Aug 25, 2022

Cape Fear Valley Health’s Automated Laboratory and Educational Partnerships Fill Business and Community Needs

Sponsored Content provided by April Maroschak - Director of Laboratory Services, Cape Fear Valley Health

Cape Fear Valley Health (CFVH) is proud of our new state-of-the-art centralized lab that will reduce lab turnaround time, leading to shorter patient stays. Opened in August, the renovated 3,952-square-foot lab space has automated capabilities, allowing CFVH to increase efficiency and reduce costs, while freeing up clinical lab technicians to focus on other critical tasks that help save lives. 

Faced with a shortage of clinical lab staff, CFVH had to figure out how to do more with less. Thus, the idea was born to introduce an automated line. Before the renovation, staff had to move the specimen tubes from step to step. Now, the automated line handles the centrifuge and analysis steps with minimal human touch. The line will also cap tubes, track storage of the specimens, and discard the samples at the end of the three-day storage period. 

A more efficient lab means that clinicians and patients will know their test results sooner, cutting down on the length of hospital stays, saving on costs, and delivering more consistent turnaround times. In addition to being able to serve patients better, the automated laboratory represents a huge benefit to CFVH. With a current workload of over 5,000 specimens per day, the automated line will increase efficiency by processing 1,400 sample tubes per hour for chemistry and hematology, meaning the hospital will be able to expand testing volumes. The hospital now will be able to bring in additional revenue from its increased capacity to do more outpatient lab testing work, allowing us to hire additional staff and purchase other equipment the hospital needs.

As CFVH is able to increase its outpatient testing volume, the hospital will also deliver benefits to the wider community. Other hospitals and clinics in the area will be able to send more of their specimens to CFVH for quick and reliable analysis. The efficiency will allow other hospitals to focus more on their immediate testing needs of admitted and emergency room patients.

The shortage of qualified clinical lab technicians was a core reason to move to more automation. In search of a long-term solution for staffing challenges, CFVH representatives, including myself and the Vice President of Pharmacy and the Cancer Centers, Chris Tart (who was then the Vice President of Professional Services), approached Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) with a proposal to launch a clinical training program for students pursuing an associate degree in clinical laboratory science.

FTCC representatives were excited to partner on the training program, which provides benefits not only to CFVH by growing the pipeline of qualified lab technicians in the local area, but to students too with on-the-job training.

As part of the program, students complete two full-time semesters receiving cross-training in major laboratory functions alongside CFVH staff. They are exposed to various sections of the lab, completing four-to-six-week rotations in the microbiology, chemistry, and hematology sections, and the blood bank. The program focuses on reinforcing what students are learning in the classroom along with practical components and the importance of accurate laboratory analysis to the patient, physician, and functionality of the whole hospital system.

The reduced workload made possible by the automated line allows students and staff to concentrate on higher-level tasks they studied in school, like reviewing cells under the microscope, calibration and correlation of equipment, quality control, and clinical lab theory. Students also have the opportunity to work in different lab settings, including the CFVH facilities in Hoke, Dunn, Elizabethtown, and Lillington. 

The program has been a success, with the first class completing graduation in July 2022. Half of those graduates have already agreed to fill open lab positions at CFVH. The hospital is in the process of obtaining accreditation from the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory (NACKLS). Once the accreditation is finalized, the graduates will earn their Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) certification and enter the health care workforce as highly skilled professionals.

CFVH is also in the beginning stages of establishing a similar clinical training partnership with Fayetteville State University, which will be an excellent opportunity for students pursuing biology degrees to receive on-the-job training.

Partnerships with both educational institutions will allow CFVH to build a pool of employees to fill numerous staff vacancies now and in the future, allowing the hospital system to increase its full-time staff and rely less on short-term contracted staff.

Over the past 25 years of working at CFVH, I have seen many changes. I am proud of the increased capabilities of our high-tech lab and of the growth we are seeing in the workforce through our partnerships. In the future, CFVH aims to continue to create efficiencies and  increase testing volumes so we can keep lab testing within the health system and serve patients better.

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