Cherokee Indian Hospital lab working diligently amid pandemic 

by Apr 30, 2020COMMUNITY sgadugi, Health





The laboratory staff at the Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority (CIHA) is aiding in the process of coronavirus (COVID-19) test sample collection and preparation for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) community.  In addition to working with the COVID-19 tests, the staff is also maintaining their regular testing duties within the hospital.   

Alannah Tushka is a laboratory phlebotomist with the Cherokee Indian Hospital. (Photos courtesy of Cherokee Indian Hospital)

“The staff has stepped up and has done a marvelous job,” said Chad Cooper, MHS, MT (ASCP), CIHA laboratory manager.  “We have had to be creative in adapting our work flow in prioritizing these samples.  Currently, the majority of our work centers around prepping all the testing supplies needed for the drive-thru testing sites held on the Qualla Boundary and other sites like Snowbird and Cherokee County.”  

He added, “We then send those tests to our reference lab (Quest Diagnostics).  Data is compiled daily on the testing results, numbers of tests completed, and the number of supplies consumed.  This data gets reported to administration and out to the public.”  

Cooper said their daily workload varies depending on the various drive-thru sites being used and the amount of COVID-19 tests being completed daily.  “On high volume days, we might process between 150 to 200 specimens.”  

When dealing with the COVID-19 testing process, the CIHA laboratory staff is taking the necessary precautions.  “When we have to test or process a COVID-19 sample, we wear our normal personal protective equipment and work the sample up inside our bio-safety cabinet to minimize exposure to the virus.”  

Amanda Peterson, Cherokee Indian Hospital medical technologist, is shown with the COVID-19 rapid-testing instrument known as ABBOTT ID NOW.

Cooper went on to say, “Most samples collected in the field, or in the clinics, get sent out to our reference laboratory.  The turnaround time for these samples has continually improved.  The average time now is three to four days.  Our in-house testing platform is the ABBOTT ID NOW rapid test.  This rapid test has a limited supply and is used mainly for our in-patient population.”  

The CIHA laboratory staff includes: Clerk – Barbara Young; Phlebotomy Team – Alyssa Cable, Abrigail Street, Lisa Bradley, Alannah Tushka, Ciara Orr, and Lori Harrison; Medical Technologists – Amanda Peterson, Tina Melin, Alice Gibson, Kelly White, and Oscar Romero; Medical Laboratory Technicians – Julie Lossiah, Diana Allman, Paula Coggins, Shawna Belanger, Kelcei Fisher, and Mary Queen.  

Of the work his staff does, Cooper noted, “Our clerk’s primary task is to check in patients to the laboratory and access the patient’s lab work ordered by their provider.  Our skillful phlebotomy team then steps up and collects the blood and other samples under a variety of conditions.  Our techs then process all of the samples collected by the phlebotomists using different testing methodologies within the disciplines of chemistry, microbiology, hematology, immunohematology, serology, immunology, parasitology, and urinalysis.  The entire process definitely takes a team effort.”