To accelerate the process , the Virginia team started by reaching out to former employees , recent retirees and others who would be familiar with the laboratory and its work environment , Toney said . In addition to typical job posting venues , they used word of mouth , current employees ’ personal networks and social media to find candidates . For non-technical roles , they tapped people who suddenly found themselves underor unemployed in other fields due to the pandemic . DCLS also adjusted the usual onboarding structure , designating staff for training and focusing on very specific tasks to streamline the process once new hires were in the door .
My staff is so dedicated and committed . They come in early and stay late to ensure that all testing is completed and results issued the same day . I worry that it ’ s going to take a toll on them and they ’ re not going to know it .”
Deborah Severson , BSMT ( ASCP )
same day . I worry that it ’ s going to take a toll on them and they ’ re not going to know it ,” she said . She has been juggling responsibilities to be able to reduce workloads in the past few months and give her staff weekends mostly off .
“ I think the hardest thing as a lab director is finding that balance where you don ’ t burn out your staff , but yet you meet all the expectations coming from above you . It ’ s such a fine line . Sometimes we do it really right , and sometimes we don ’ t . And when we don ’ t , I think you have to take a pause , rethink it , back down and go at it again ,” Toney said . “ You just have to realize that your people are more important than the deadlines .”
Many laboratorians have found small ways to give day-to-day life at work a sense of normalcy and fun . Socially distanced outdoor group lunches and break rooms stocked with snacks and drinks can help provide camaraderie in the midst of a stressful schedule . Severson even brought in her golden retriever puppy for some pet therapy . “ We dressed him up in a lab coat , and I put a mask on him ,” she said . “ My staff could come outside and sit in the grass with him and play with him as a little break .”
It is also important to take the time and effort to recognize successes , Kunas said . “ It ’ s much more difficult now when you can ’ t have a cake in your lobby or something . But being creative about celebrating successes is so important , especially when everything is going a mile a minute .”
Some laboratories have been able to hire new staff to ease workloads . Virginia has added both scientific and support staff across many areas , including testing , sample accessioning , data entry and reporting . They also extended the workday and workweek to handle higher volumes .
But finding , hiring and training staff all take time , which was precious in the early days of the pandemic response .
A common challenge when hiring in the public sector is salary competitiveness . “ Oftentimes , the private sector has the ability to offer sign-on bonuses and other kinds of incentives that the public sector doesn ’ t have the ability to do ,” Toney said . That challenge has been exacerbated during the pandemic , when other laboratories and biotechnology companies are recruiting heavily as well . However , the best candidates can recognize that there is more to public health than compensation packages . “ We ’ ve had great public visibility for the work that the state lab is doing , which has definitely helped show the importance of our contributions to COVID testing for the Commonwealth ,” she said .
Looking back through the history of science , Pentella said , there are pivot points where a single event or advance redefined the trajectory of a field . He believes we are living through one of those moments now . The need for more and faster testing is driving advances in PCR assays and antigen tests . Public health laboratories have adopted new strategies to increase capacity and adapt to changing science , demands and policies . And many of those adaptations are likely to color future responses .
Several laboratories have refined their workflows , increased automation and upgraded laboratory information management systems to improve throughput and efficiency and reduce errors . “ I think when you ’ re not being pushed to do more with less , sometimes
8 LAB MATTERS Fall 2020