HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – When most people give a blood sample to their doctor, they probably don’t think about where it goes next. But there’s an extensive system at Huntsville Hospital that keeps things moving, and it’s about to get even bigger.
Vicky McClain has seen a lot of changes in her 40 years working at the clinical laboratory at Huntsville Hospital. She says when she started out in the laboratory, everything was manual. “Very few instruments, we had no computers, we did a lot of things that probably weren’t safe,” says McClain.
Now 80 percent of what they do is automated.
“We work really hard to automate when we can because it’s much more efficient,” says McClain. “It decreases errors. It’s much safer for our employees so they won’t have to touch so many samples. We are always trying to improve our processes.”
They have to with the growth they’ve seen, processing 7 thousand specimens a day.
According to Jeff Samz, Chief Operating Officer at Huntsville Hospital, “Our lab is the eighth largest hospital based lab in the country. We process 4 ½ million odd tests a year, and many of them come through the tube system.”
The hospital uses a pneumatic tube system, so it has a series of tubes and blowers, much like you might see at a bank. Blood samples go flying by at 25 feet per second underneath the tram. They can get from Women’s and Children’s Hospital to the other end of the system at the main campus in about three minutes.
Samz says, “I think people would be surprised to know that from a hospital administrator’s standpoint, the tram that looks so pretty is really more important for sending tubes back and forth than people back and forth.”
The technology that greets the samples here is astounding.
McClain adds, ”Like barcoding every sample. I mean, how safe is that? Yours has got a unique barcode on it, that’s unique to you. And that identifies every piece of information about you and what tests we have to run on you. So that technology alone just revolutionized what we do.”
But with all of that technology has come a shortage of space at the lab.
McClain says their space is very crowded. “And we’ve been here since 1982. And over that time we’ve exploded,” says McClain.
With the new Twickenham Square development will come that much needed expansion. A floor and a half of the new office building with be for the lab. It will bring all the processes together and double the size of the lab to 35,000 square feet. They’re also spending three million dollars to upgrade the tube system. All of this means even more accountability and accuracy for the patients and physicians across north Alabama that use the lab.
Samz says, “We’re proud of it because it keeps business in Huntsville. We employ about 230 people in our lab and a significant portion of them are because we have lots of people supporting our lab and we like keeping that in the local economy.”
The new facility will be connected to the Twickenham development by a bridge. They’re hoping the new facility will be ready to move into by this summer.