The Quiet Heroes in Lab Coats

Medical Laboratory Professional Week is April 18-24, 2021. Pictured from left: Jeremy Merriam, Noreen Chacon, Geraldine Bantay, Winnie Yeneza, Francis Yeneza, Director of Laboratory Services Brent Lehto, and Laboratory Manager Jhoanna Marical.

As the pandemic took a not-so-quiet hold on the country a little more than a year ago, front-line caregivers stepped up to fight tirelessly to save lives. But a similar fight was taking place behind the scenes. In medical laboratories across the nation, and especially here in the San Luis Valley, laboratory professionals had to quickly and accurately analyze the COVID-19 test samples that poured into the lab, often in addition to their regular responsibilities.

“During this unprecedented time, we have seen the best facing the worst,” said Jhoanna Marical, San Luis Valley Health laboratory manager. “I couldn’t be more proud of my team, my friends, and my colleagues who quietly and confidently go about their duties to provide quality laboratory test results so physicians can make an accurate and timely diagnosis.”

At SLV Health, there are two laboratories that are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week – one at SLV Health Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, and one at Conejos County Hospital in La Jara. Between the two, approximately 180,000 tests are performed a year, from anatomic pathology to urinalysis.

During the pandemic, the laboratory staff became busy not only testing for the virus itself but also establishing and coordinating antibody testing for COVID-19, which is currently available by appointment.

SLV Health also offers direct-to-consumer laboratory testing, where the public can receive a variety of laboratory services without an appointment, with the results being sent directly to the person. Those tests include health panels for men and women; lipid panels; testing for specific vitamins such as Vitamin D and B12; pregnancy and blood type testing; and even colon cancer screening kits.  A new addition to DTC is a COVID-19 PCR test for $80 for people who may be traveling or wanting a test result for a reason other than being sick. DTC tests are offered during normal business hours.

“This week is a great time to recognize our hard-working staff, especially after the year they have all just been through,” said Brent Lehto, SLV Health laboratory director. “Through the COVID pandemic and the increased workload that came with it, the staff here has my heartfelt appreciation, and I just wanted to thank them for everything they do.”

The week of April 18th marks the start of National Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, an annual celebration of medical laboratory professionals and pathologists. The laboratories at SLV Health are inspected and accredited every two years, and recently passed its latest inspection. The lab in Alamosa receives accreditation through the College of American Pathologists, while the lab at Conejos County Hospital is accredited through Clinical Laboratory Improvements Acts. Both laboratories receive regular on-site inspections and blind-sample proficiency testing.

For more information or to make an appointment for services with the laboratory at SLV Health, go online to https://www.sanluisvalleyhealth.org/services/laboratory/