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From COVID-19 testing to MHS GENESIS support, lab techs do it all

Image of Military health personnel wearing a face mask using a blood analyzer machine. Immunohematology is just another word to a laboratory technician…Hospital Corpsman 1st Class KC Geisler, Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Bremerton Laboratory leading petty officer, purviews an anti-body panel at their blood bank analyzer during a normal high operational-tempo morning (Photo by: Douglas Stutz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton).

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Even though April 18-24, 2021 is designated as Medical Laboratory Professional Week, for laboratory technicians like Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class KC Geisler, there's no slow down or reduction of service taking place during the week.

Geisler, assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Bremerton as the laboratory leading petty officer, readily affirms that his lab is central to all health-care provided at the command.

"As a laboratory professional we organically see almost every single patients either through getting their blood drawn or through their specimen(s) that are dropped off to the laboratory," said Geisler.

To describe what lab techs do, Geisler chose a famed fictional detective to illustrate their importance and provide context.

"Laboratorians are the Sherlock Holmes of the medical field. We help to identify cancers and disease through testing and have to ensure that the results that we put out are accurate. Providers depend heavily on the results that we give them so that they can better treat their patient," Geisler said. "To put it simply, providers cannot function without us. Without laboratory results it makes it that much harder to pinpoint that disease or affliction that a patient may have. Yes they could treat the symptoms but without that result to re-enforce their diagnosis, the patient wouldn't be able to get the right quality care that they need."

For 2020, there were approximately 699,500 tests conducted by the Core Lab, including hematology, urinalysis, coagulation, blood bank, point-of-care testing, microbiology and cytology/histology. There were another approximately 36,155 tests conducted at the NMRTC Bremerton Detachment Puget Sound Naval Shipyard lab, approximately 25,535 at the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit Bangor lab and approximately17,750 at the NMRTU Everett lab. Three blood drives also collected 120 units.

Providing timely and direct support for COVID-19 testing has become the lab focal point over the past year, and has only added to the routine high operational-tempo of the staff.

"The laboratory became the gateway of all COVID-19 testing in our immediate region. The laboratory had to step up and tackle the pandemic head on with no reduction in schedules. When USS Nimitz was tasked to deploy last year, all of our staff came in over the weekend to order over 4,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests, coordinate logistics, processing, shipping and DOD testing to support getting the carrier underway for deployment as scheduled," Geisler said.

Lab staff also took part in providing approximately 5,750 COVID swab tests for Marine Corps Security Force Battalion, Bangor; and approximately 4,250 COVID swab tests for Submarine Group Nine commands.

"When we receive the COVID samples we have to make sure that the sample is correct and acceptable for testing before tested or sent for reference studies," added Geisler. "Our microbiology bench received and validated four FDA approved infectious disease diagnostic analyzers to test COVID-19 and respiratory panels as well as another molecular testing system that can handle 400 COVID tests a day.

"With the implementation of those analyzers, the wait time for COVID-19 results went from three to seven days to mere hours. The efforts of the lab have helped to identify patients that have been infected with COVID-19, which has been instrumental in the care and further precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19," explained Geisler.

The lab team is comprised of two officers, two pathologists, 27 enlisted personnel and 11 civilians. The majority of young Sailors have arrived at NMRTC Bremerton for their first duty station. Their training and understanding of their chosen specialty, as well as work-ethic, has continually been put to the test during every conducted test.

"Our preparedness comes from rigorous training and the constant need to perform daily checks to ensure that everything runs smoothly in the laboratory," Geisler stated. "Most of the techs that we receive are straight from lab school. They have a huge responsibility on their shoulders as soon as they set foot in the laboratory, perhaps more so than any other department in the hospital. They all have done a phenomenal job. I am very proud of them!"

Along with all their in-house lab efforts, NMRTC Bremerton also sent two staff to assist with the collection and testing of COVID samples on Guam in response to fleet concentration outbreaks. Another lab officer was sent to augment U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka to assist with conducting PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID testing and facilitate management procedural changes there and at Branch Health Clinic Iwakuni.

The DOD's new electronic health record, MHS GENESIS, has been the second major focus for laboratory staff. The command supported the rollout of the new system along the west coast. Staff went on temporary assigned duty to provide subject matter expert assistance at Naval Health Clinic Lemoore, Branch Health Clinic Fallon, NMRTC 29 Palms and six clinics, Naval Branch Health Clinic Port Hueneme, and 13 small outlying clinics of NMRTC Pendleton.

NMRTC Bremerton's Laboratory has been fully accredited by the College of American Pathologists, American Society for Clinical Pathology and American Association of Blood Banks. It is also licensed and the Food and Drug Administration.

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