Laboratory operations at an orthopedic specialty hospital

April 14, 2022

How we met this Lab Innovator

Medical Laboratory Observer (MLO), met Dr. Esther Eke in November 2021, at our Lab Directors Summit in the Chicago area. Dr. Eke was chosen by our Summit staff because of her involvement in decision-making for the products and services used and the management of her laboratory. She also was interested and willing to discuss challenges at her lab that she was looking to find solutions for. The magic of the Lab Directors Summit is the 48 hours of networking opportunity and idea sharing with other Lab Directors and participation at our round-table disscussions with suppliers and peers

What drew you to a specialty orthopedic hospital, and what do you find different about your facility?

Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital (JHMH) is a licensed 70-bed hospital in Phenix City, Alabama. The hospital delivers the highest quality patient care in orthopedics, as demonstrated through the many awards it has received over the years. JHMH has been ranked, by Healthgrades, in the top 10% nationwide for both orthopedic and joint replacement care; in fact, it is the only hospital in Alabama to be recognized for excellence in both these areas during a given year. Furthermore, it is the only hospital in the nation to receive Healthgrades America’s 100 Best for Orthopedic Surgery and America’s 100 Best for Joint Replacement for eleven years in a row (2012-2022). JHMH also boasts the Medicare Top 5 rating, two years in a row.
JHMH sits on a hill overlooking River Chase and within a block of the Chattahoochee River. Individuals are drawn in by its beautiful grounds and newly updated facade. Inside, they are welcomed by friendly employees and physicians who are devoted to excellent patient care.
Many patients express that, while receiving care at JHMH, they felt as if they were treated like family. I believe that is what sets us apart from other hospitals, of which I am very proud.

What role did JHMH play in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like every hospital, worldwide, JHMH was significantly impacted by the pandemic, the novel Covid-19 outbreak. We changed several processes in order to continue patient care while minimizing the spread of the disease.Specifically, we began testing all patients who were admitted to the hospital. We changed our cleaning procedures and chemicals. We instituted screening measures for hospital entry. Lastly, we began a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic to serve those in our community.
During the first few months of the COVID-19 outbreak, there was a significant reduction in the number of surgeries. This was due to the state government mandate to stop elective surgeries. After two months, the mandate was lifted, and the hospital quickly returned to normal surgical volume. We have remained in line with regulatory requirements and guidelines for the duration of the pandemic, including mandatory masks, vaccinations, and physical distancing.

How did you address the testing challenges as a specialty orthopedic hospital?

During COVID, diagnostic laboratory testing volume increased exponentially. At the same time, we had many difficulties filling technologist and phlebotomist positions. We managed these challenges by first creating a position for a lab assistant whose primary responsibility is receiving and performing COVID tests during our heaviest testing times.
We assessed and changed salaries and offered bonuses to attract new employees. We also employed travelers to augment our staff. These strategies, along with the tireless efforts of veteran lab employees, allowed us to continue to provide excellent, uninterrupted services.

What led you to choose a career as a clinical laboratorian and your current role as a lab director?

I cannot say enough about the outstanding job that our laboratory staff and medical technologists have done, and continue to do, during the pandemic. In my opinion, they are unsung heroes in our nation’s fight against COVID-19 although you don’t hear much about them in the news or other stories. But, just like other medical professionals, lab staff went above and beyond, working hard and long hours to serve patients and employees during the pandemic. We are fortunate at the “Jack” that our leadership recognizes efforts of the laboratory department as an integral part of our patients’ treatment and its employees as important members of the Hughston family.
Esther Eke