The Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC) Laboratory is operated collaboratively by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Southcentral Foundation, and is led by Dr. James J. Tiesinga, Laboratory Medical Director. These organizations, along with Dr. Tiesinga, are the 2021 recipients of ASHNHA's Beacon Award for their unwavering commitment, effort, and collaboration in support of Tribal members’ health and welfare through rapid COVID-19 vaccine distribution and a robust COVID-19 testing capacity for the state of Alaska.
The ANMC Lab has a staff of 74 who have been tirelessly working over the last 18 months to analyze a considerable number of COVID-19 tests, in addition to performing their typical laboratory functions.
“Our Laboratory team of professionals have shown amazing resilience in the face of ongoing challenges throughout the pandemic, working around the clock to process and analyze up to 2,000 COVID-19 tests daily,” said Dr. Tiesinga. “Our ability to generate high-volume, fast, and accurate in-house COVID-19 tests results, starting very early in the pandemic, has saved many lives through early diagnosis and treatment, prompt public health intervention, and effective follow-up of patients.”
COVID-19 testing is also a crucial element in keeping ANMC operations up and running. In meeting the demands of pre-procedure testing needs, the ANMC Laboratory has helped keep operating rooms and clinics open, not only for ANMC and SCF, but also for our Tribal partners, other local hospitals and businesses.
Very early in the COVID-19 pandemic, even before the U.S. declared a State of Emergency, ANMC Laboratory leadership actively worked with suppliers to acquire COVID-19 testing equipment, collection media and swabs, and expedited these supplies and equipment throughout rural Alaska. Because of this foresight, on April 3, 2020, the ANMC Laboratory became one of the first in Alaska to begin in-house COVID-19 testing.
From then on, the ANMC Laboratory very quickly approached almost 2,000 COVID-19 tests per day. As the number of routine tests waxed and waned depending on hospital admissions, COVID-19 testing quickly became the Laboratory’s primary focus. The Laboratory team has continued to demonstrate a high level of teamwork and collaboration, even despite the Laboratory’s high-stress environment, working 24-hours a day with campus collection sites, ANMC hospital clinics and the Emergency Department, SCF Primary Care, and other Tribal partners to receive and process many hundreds of COVID-19 samples daily.
As of Sept. 1, 2021, ANMC Laboratory staff have processed and resulted nearly 350,000 COVID-19 tests, helping make Alaska one of the most tested states in the country.
In December 2019, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tiesinga developed a strategic initiative to distribute molecular analyzers to Tribal hospitals and clinics throughout rural Alaska. The purpose of this strategic board initiative was to allow rural and remote sites to rapidly and accurately test for viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, as well as other infectious diseases.
By March 2020, because this initiative was already in place, several Tribal partners already had acquired testing equipment that could later be used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The foresight to develop contracts with several molecular equipment vendors prior to the pandemic, ANTHC was able to acquire dozens of Abbott ID NOW molecular analyzers for rapid COVID-19 testing and quickly deploy them to many Alaska Tribal hospitals and clinics in early April 2020. This proactive deployment of ID NOW instruments helped keep COVID-19 out of our rural areas and saved many lives, especially during the first six months of the pandemic.
ANMC Laboratory staff also developed virtually all organizational procedures for COVID-19 specimen collection and processing that were adopted across the ANMC campus, and later became widely utilized by many Tribal health facilities across Alaska.
“Even though we have been working in a high-stress environment throughout the pandemic, one of the best parts about coming into work is seeing the dedication of this Laboratory team to provide safe, high-quality health care for the Alaska Native people we serve,” added Dr. Tiesinga.