Even in the best of circumstances, cancer and organ transplant patients are uniquely vulnerable to infection or disease. Treatments like chemotherapy or immunosuppressant drugs – though life-saving – work by reducing the body’s ability to fight back against invaders.
So how do you keep these high-risk patients safe during the global COVID-19 pandemic?
For Todd Gilbertson, M Health Fairview’s system director of laboratory services, the answer was simple: Create a separate treatment facility for them.
Earlier this year, when Minnesota’s confirmed COVID-19 cases numbered only in the dozens, rather than thousands, Gilbertson and a team at the M Health Fairview Clinics and Surgery Center in Minneapolis gathered to discuss patient safety.
The second floor of the Clinics and Surgery Center is home to the Advanced Treatment Center, a lab that provides infusion therapy for organ transplant recipients and cancer patients – people who would be at higher risk of severe complications if exposed to COVID-19. As many as 200 such patients visit the Advanced Treatment Center on an ordinary day.
But the Clinics and Surgery Center also houses nearly 40 other specialty clinics and receives a high volume of daily visitors. Gilbertson and his team knew they had to find a way to isolate cancer and transplant patients for their own safety, while still guaranteeing access to necessary infusion treatments.
Gilbertson also oversees a mobile care unit that makes more than 190,000 home visits a year to senior service and pharmacy patients. At first, he thought that mobile team might be able to assist by providing at-home care.
“We wondered if we could expand these home visit services to include our high-risk immunocompromised patients,” he said. “The reality was that with the volume and capabilities of the mobile care team, we needed another alternative.”
So Gilbertson and his group settled on another solution. In a three-week span in late March and early April, a multi-disciplinary team from across the M Health Fairview system designed and developed a new specialty draw and processing lab.
Known only as the “Lab Draw Hub” to patients, the temporary location is housed in a large conference room in the building near the Fairview Home Infusion Suite at 711 Kasota Avenue in Minneapolis. The location has nine draw bays for treatment and all of the usual amenities of a fully operational collection center, including refrigerators, freezers, a centrifuge, and processing stations. The build-out of the space included erecting temporary walls and medical grade partitions, installing computer equipment, phones, and filtration systems, laying vinyl flooring, creating signage, and constructing a handicap ramp.
The location, which opened on April 7, keeps high-risk patients isolated from other patient populations and minimizes their potential COVID-19 exposure.
“I am very proud of the work and collaboration of individuals across our system,” said Klint Kjeldahl, the M Health Fairview vice president of lab services. “Having lab, clinical care areas, pharmacy, IT, and many others collaborate in the way they did to open this lab draw hub so quickly was amazing to watch.”
The lab sees patients by appointment from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Upon arrival, patients enter a negative pressure corridor one at a time to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Once inside, they experience a short wait time in an area that can seat up to four people with chairs spaced six feet apart. The draw stations and chairs are disinfected after each patient, and the floors and walls are cleaned nightly. Lab staff members are equipped with all of the appropriate personal protective equipment including masks and gloves to protection patients.
Visitors exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms will still receive their lab draws, but are redirected to an isolation area far from other patients.
The temporary lab is made up of staff from the Clinics and Surgery Center, including nurses, phlebotomists, technicians, customer service staff, and a screener and courier.
“The staff members are adaptive to our patients’ needs and willing to do what’s needed,” Gilbertson said.
The facility is temporary, but the impact will be long lasting.
“This effort really shows what we can all do as a team and really makes me proud to be a part of M Health Fairview,” Kjeldahl said.