This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Ashley Vos, Medical Laboratory Assistant at our St. Catharines Site.
For Ashley Vos, being open, willing to learn and ready for change were top of mind when going into every shift at the St. Catharines Site Laboratory.
In her five years as a Medical Laboratory Assistant at Niagara Health, Ashley had dealt with change, but nothing compared to the level required during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It felt like every day was different and as much as you want to try and control things, I just had to accept that change was inevitable and learn to be versatile,” said Ashley.
Medical Laboratory Assistants have a high patient-facing role, often seeing patients as soon as they are triaged to perform phlebotomy (collecting blood samples). The pandemic had a big impact on the way they performed their jobs. “There were a lot of procedural and personal protective equipment (PPE) changes they had to go through, along with the uncertainty that came with the spread of the virus,” said Mary C. Green, Laboratory Manager. “They rose to the challenge and handled it like champs.”
How has the role of the Lab changed during the COVID pandemic?
The Laboratory Medicine Program offers 24-hour diagnostic testing at our Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Welland sites for treating emergency and routine hospital patients.
During the pandemic, the role of the Lab expanded – we worked with our clinical partners to implement COVID-19 Assessment Centres and worked with our community partners to implement off-site COVID testing. The Lab became an important part of NH’s COVID response because we were responsible for picking up the COVID-19 swabs from the Assessment Centres and making sure they were sent out to testing labs quickly so that test results could come back in a timely manner.
What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in your work since March?
The biggest change was definitely the process in how we do our work. A big part of my role as a Lab Assistant is to collect the specimens, such as blood samples from patients, required for tests ordered by a physician. Typically, when Lab Assistants collect specimens, we would do something called “swarming,” which means that a team of Lab Assistants would go to the same floor. As a team, we could divide and conquer to get things done more efficiently.
Since COVID hit, only two Lab Assistants were allowed on the same floor to follow proper infection prevention and control measures, which increased our individual work load as well as the time we spent on a floor collecting specimens.
Describe how the Lab team has performed during this time.
I think we’ve done a great job with handling all of the changes that were happening. We really came together as a team – we learned to be patient with each other and help each other out when needed, especially with all of the new processes we had to learn. We knew we were all going through the same thing and that we could rely on each other to get the job done.
Knowing you work in a patient-facing area, what precautions did the Lab take to enhance safety?
Depending on the precautions – whether it was contact, droplet or airborne, we had a full range of PPE available from gowns, gloves and masks, to face shields, N95 masks and sometimes hair and shoe coverings if needed.
Our managers did a great job in communicating not only what the PPE changes and protocols were, but also why they were being put in place so that we stayed informed to keep ourselves safe.
What's the most challenging part about working during the pandemic?
I think one of the most challenging parts was communicating the changes in process to other staff and physicians. There’s a lot of information that Lab Assistants need for specimen collection to make sure we are ordering the right tests for patients.
As time went on and we learned more about the virus, we would refine processes as needed. We not only had to keep up with all of these changes and learn as we go, but we also had to communicate it to nurses and physicians to make sure we were all on the same page.
What is a learning for you during the pandemic?
There were a few takeaways for me during the pandemic. I learned that communication is key and to ask questions when you’re not sure of the process.
On a personal note, the pandemic has taught me to take a step back and make time for the things I enjoy doing. These days, I’ve been trying to do more baking and focusing on my garden.
How do you wind down after work?
I know this sounds strange, but I find cutting the lawn to be quite relaxing. I just pop my headphones on and focus on the task. I also love going for a run and staying active – it’s a great way to relieve stress and get your mind off of work.