Leading through a lab management transition: Fireside chat with Lugard Igharo, regional lab director and former Ascension employee

16 May 2024

Lu Igharo, regional lab director, Labcorp (formerly Ascension), and Bryan Vaughn, senior vice president of health systems, Labcorp, discuss the Ascension and Labcorp lab management transition process, including the Ascension lab team’s initial reaction to the partnership announcement and how the sentiment has grown to be overwhelmingly positive in the time since. 

Bryan Vaughn: As a director of 14 Ascension hospital laboratories in different markets across the state of Texas, you have several hundred people who report to you delivering healthcare and diagnostics services to those hospitals. It's remarkable. First, let’s look back and ask, “How did you get started in healthcare?”
Lu Igharo: Thank you, Bryan. I got my first degree in microbiology in Nigeria. After moving to San Antonio, Texas, I went back to school and got my post-bachelor's degree in clinical life sciences. Then, my first job was at a teaching hospital in San Antonio.

BV: Over the course of several years, you progressively go up in lab leadership, and in early 2022, you’re the lab director for Ascension’s Seton Medical Center in Austin, which is a big 500+-bed hospital with a major laboratory. What was it like when you found out a partnership with Labcorp was going to happen? 
LI: Most of the staff had a personal connection with the hospital. It's a nonprofit Catholic hospital and for some of the staff, their mom or dad was born in that hospital. So, they were not happy. And, we’d just come out of COVID where we became close as a team. So, the timing of the announcement was tough.

BV: What unfolds in the coming months? And how do team members' reactions change over time?
LI: We came together as leadership to help our team navigate the challenges. I was very open. I'd say to my team, “It’s okay to be upset. Express your emotions. Ask questions.” Then, as leaders, we went back to get answers.

Labcorp’s integration team did such a fabulous job coming up with some Q&As, which was very helpful. We had zero legacy knowledge about Labcorp. [Usually,] people come to you with questions and you have the answers. You can take that for granted after working at a company for years. So those Q&As were instrumental for us to have as a tool to help our team.

BV: Fast forward to when the deal gets finalized. You and the team become Labcorp employees. What were some of the things that maybe went well, or not so well? 
LI: A few things are very, very critical to people who work in the lab: 1) Their pay. 2) Their shift. 

The first challenge we had with trying to integrate close to 400 employees in one day was matching prior schedules. I was getting calls from employees with specific requests for changes. That was a big challenge.

BV: After navigating that and Labcorp retaining the overwhelming majority, close to 97%-98%, of employees, what began to happen?
LI: People felt relaxed again. Staff want job security. They realized, “Okay. This job is not going away.” Because the first thought was that Labcorp was going to consolidate. They're going to close the lab; they're going to send our specimens out. That never happened. So, the staff was feeling good about the transition.

BV: Today, we’re almost two years past the announcement and a year and a half into the integration. What does it feel like now that you and the team are a part of Labcorp and you're no longer just the leader of one hospital but 14?
LI: It's a beautiful story. I'm going to try and put it in three buckets: 

  1. Resources: If you work in a hospital, you’re competing for resources with surgery, the imaging department, etc. That's not an issue today. I'm dealing with leadership that “know lab.” They understand the impact of the lab equipment on the daily workload of the laboratory staff. That was different before the Labcorp partnership. Today, that's not even a discussion. You don't want me to start giving examples; I have tons of them. But I like to highlight one. In Texas, we’re implementing blood bank automation for all hospitals. We didn't have that two years ago.
  2. Career opportunity: Last time I was counting, we’ve had close to 15-20 promotions. That's amazing.
  3. Benchmarks and KPIs: Before, when you worked in the lab, there was really nothing to benchmark what you did every day. We usually had turnaround time from specimen receipt to when it is resulted. Labcorp leadership came and said we could do more. Today we have KPIs. You see, we're talking about benchmarking best practices. Labcorp is bringing that value.

BV: Do you and your leadership team have tools and support to feel like you're delivering great quality to the patient? 
LI: Absolutely. I have a lot of support. When you hear that I have 14 hospitals, I’m not doing this alone. I have a north regional director, a south regional director, a director over children's, and I have a consolidated lab that's being run by managers. So, absolutely. 

BV: Lu, thank you for joining us here, but just as importantly, thank you and the team for leading through that change. You're delivering for patients and their clinicians every single day and you can't do that without great people. Thank you for all that you do.

Lu Igharo

Lu E. Igharo MLS (ASCP) is an enterprising laboratory leader with 18+ years’ experience maximizing quality and performance of lab operations to drive the strategic initiatives of the hospital network for patient satisfaction and growth in billable margins. He currently serves as regional laboratory director at Labcorp.

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