South Shore Health Launches In-House COVID-19 Lab Testing

During the onset of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, South Shore Health Microbiology Supervisor Eve Bankert recognized an opportunity to conduct in-house testing in response to days-long waits for results from the state and other testing vendors. 

The microbiology expert presented her ideas to Kris Young, Executive Director of Pharmacy, Laboratory and Clinical Nutritional Services, who gave Bankert his okay to kick the effort into high gear. The result? 

South Shore Hospital’s lab conducts an average of 40 tests a day in-house, with results produced in five hours, in comparison to 30 hours turnaround time from a private diagnostic lab.

“I’m extremely proud of how Eve and the entire team got this process stood up, it took a lot of extra time and dedication, all while continuing to meet the daily needs of our patient population,” Young said.

In-house testing allows the hospital to prioritize samples from patients in Critical Care, Labor and Delivery, and area nursing homes. 

Part of the team that developed South Shore Health's in-house COVID-19 test
Members of South Shore Health's lab team pose with the Luminex analyzer. From left to right: Cathy Murphy, Liz Jardin, Jennie Uon, Kara DiTomasso, and Eve Bankert)

“We saw a real and two-fold need for a rapid process that identified both patients who no longer needed to be on contact precautions, as well as those infected with SARS-CoV-2. Identifying patients that no longer need to be on precautions conserves PPE and facilitates discharge.” Bankert said.

When patients can be discharged safely, it allows South Shore Hospital to free up beds for those that need them—which is especially critical during the surge of COVID-19 patients.

Bankert and her colleagues in the South Shore Hospital microbiology lab worked with the Luminex Corporation to develop a Lab Developed Test, which has been authorized by the FDA for emergency use authorization as a means to detect SARS-CoV-2.

Luminex’s testing product, The ARIES SARS-CoV-2 Assay, enables labs to produce sensitive and reliable results. This test differs from point of care tests—such as those offered at national drug store chains—which may only indicate if a patient has had an immune response.

Once work with Luminex began, a validation process followed. Working with a Luminex Molecular Specialist on site, 80 samples were processed and submitted to the FDA for approval.

The in-house testing lab went live on March 31. During just the first couple of weeks of operation, test results have been returned in as little as five hours and that turn-around time continues to decline. 

Although the microbiology lab already had the appropriate testing ability, the existing analyzer had limited capacity. By adding a second Luminex analyzer with double the capability, capacity increased by two-thirds, allowing 18 specimens to be examined at once. 

With increased capacity for testing comes the need for increased staffing. That’s where clinicians from other parts of the health system, including South Shore Medical Center, will play a new role. Bankert says the goal is to train and staff technologists on all three shifts, with the first run of tests beginning in the early morning and running into the late night hours.

Thanks to South Shore Health’s lab team for all their hard work and innovative thinking during this crisis.

Learn more about our response to COVID-19.