Hospital leaders reflect on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic

In mid-2021, as COVID-19 cases continued to surge, three of Labcorp’s hospital leader partners each sat down for a recorded interview with Dr. Brian Caveney, Chief Medical Officer and President of Labcorp Diagnostics. They shared their experiences from the onset of the pandemic and specific steps they took to overcome new challenges.


Working together through a “very crazy time”: Swedish Health System

Christopher Dale, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Acute Care

The state of Washington had the first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S., and Dr. Christopher Dale remembers it as being a “very crazy time” as the hospital scrambled for PPE supplies and an understanding of the new disease.

“As a healthcare delivery system in Seattle, we’re not experts in lab testing,” Dale says. “We’re experts in patients, in diagnosis, in treating people, in having relationships, and in our local communities, but we need to have partners who have deep experience in their areas of expertise so that we can all come together to improve the health of our communities and keep people safe.”

Through the partnership with Labcorp, Swedish Health System was better positioned to do just that: keep people safe.

“I deeply appreciate the partnership with Labcorp. We wouldn’t have been able to provide as good a care during the pandemic if it weren’t for you all,” says Dale. “Testing was such an integral part of the early response. And even today, I watch our numbers every single day, and we’re very fortunate to have creative, dedicated, conscientious, reliable partners who really work to provide the best care possible for patients. So thank you to you and to the whole Labcorp team for everything that you all have done.”

Lessons learned:

“If you’re going to operate a large organization successfully, you have to understand what’s actually going on with the front line and what people are going through, and, at the same time, help get information out to the front line so that people know what we’re doing in terms of the plan. We employed a tiered huddle structure at each campus.” In fact, that tiered huddle approach was crucial in the ability to make an impact, and quickly. “At each one of our hospitals, there’s a daily huddle and that’s where, starting at the unit level, we’re able to understand what’s going on. That filters up to the department levels; that filters up to the hospital and then ultimately up to the system. Then we’re able to make decisions rapidly together as a system and then push some of those things back out again.”

An opportunity to work together: Mount Sinai Health System

Carlos Cordon-Cardo, MD, PhD, Irene Heinz Given and John LaPorte Given Professor and Chairman, Department of Pathology

After the initial outbreak in Washington, there was a surge of cases in New York City, which became the epicenter of the world in terms of numbers.

“The first days of the pandemic were very hectic, very difficult, anxiety producing, but we were prepared,” says Dr. Carlos Cordon-Cardo. “Months before the pandemic arrived in New York, we knew that it was not a matter of if, but a matter of when.”

Cordon-Cardo believes the fact that it took a variety of stakeholders to respond to the pandemic may result in long-term benefits.

“The opportunity that we have been given to work together, academic institutions, healthcare systems, with the commercial laboratories, biotech and pharma has been absolutely wonderful,” Cordon-Cardo says. “I hope that this gets to stay, because we cannot confront any of this by ourselves.”

Prior to the pandemic, Mount Sinai was working with Labcorp on digital pathology initiatives, which proved beneficial as pathologists were forced to work remotely.

“The pandemic has accelerated how digital pathology has been built, how critical it is, and how helpful it can be,” Cordon-Cardo says. “We have a new tool that, when wisely used, not only increases the efficiency of the pathologist, but the networking for difficult situations. You can immediately share cases and have a dialogue in order to end at a better place for the patient.”

Lessons learned:

“What we learned during the course of the early developments and into the middle of the pandemic was that producing a staging and a classification of where to put our patients was going to be very critical. Staging is a process that we use in medicine in order to bring together diagnostic and monitoring tools with the right test to do at the right time with therapeutic intervention based on the organ damage that we see as the disease moves from earlier stages to more complex disorders.”

Adapting to new challenges: Callen-Lorde Community Health Center

Peter Meacher, MD, Chief Medical Officer

Callen-Lorde, a community health center in New York City, was also hit hard by the pandemic. Dr. Peter Meacher is grateful to Labcorp for delivering tests when other organizations were struggling.

“We’ve now been partners with Labcorp for a number of years. I have to say, we were one of the first FQHCs, I believe possibly the first in the city, to get any type of testing back in March [2020], and that was through Labcorp,” Meacher says. “It was the old fashioned, right-to-the-back-of-the-nose swabs, but nonetheless, we got that up and running ahead of almost all other FQHCs. I’m very proud of that.”

“Also, we’ve really embraced the Pixel by Labcorp (now available through Labcorp On Demand) home testing because that has been another way to get appropriate tests to patients and save them a visit to a site that might expose them to COVID. That was another strategy that we got up and running and embraced pretty early on.”

Callen-Lorde has also accelerated its adoption of telehealth, keeping patients at home and safe.

"I think the pandemic has really opened up a new way of interacting with patients,” says Meacher. “I really like to see it as an expansion of services providing more access, more choice for patients.”

Lessons learned:

"When it became clear that as a federally qualified health center we were going to be used for vaccine distribution, we quickly started to think about how we were going to do this, and how we were going to do this thinking about equity and the disenfranchised groups of patients we serve."

"We came up with an algorithm whereby we took all of our 18,000 patients and we attributed a point system to them based on age, chronic illness, race, ethnicity, poverty, and a number of other things. In doing that, we identified 1,400 of our highest risk patients, and we made those patients a priority and did our very best to get them in first and get them vaccinated first. As soon as we explained the reason we were doing this and that there would be vaccines for everyone who's willing to have it, but we were focusing on getting the vaccine to the people who stood to lose the most first, other patients were very understanding and supportive."

Health systems that would like a free consultation with a Labcorp Health Systems representative should email [email protected].