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Hospital has COVID-19 rapid testing kits


GALENA–Last week, persistence paid off. Midwest Medical Center in Galena finally received and started using Abbott Laboratories’ COVID-19 rapid test kits. The kits reduce the time it takes to receive results from days to a half-hour.

“I am so excited about this,” said Dr. Ralph Losey, chief medical officer at Midwest Medical Center, who explained that Abbott, which had been appropriately directing test kits to areas of high disease prevalence in the Chicago area, made an exception for Midwest Medical, which has the equipment and trained staff necessary to run the tests. “It’s great news.”

Arica Schmidt, lab director at Midwest Medical, had been working to secure the test kits for weeks. With Losey, Schmidt pleaded the rural hospital’s case for the kits.

“It’s definitely good,” she said. “It’s a much quicker turn-around time.”

Tracy Bauer, Midwest Medical president and CEO, credits Losey and Schmidt with pushing for the hospital to have the capability to perform the tests.

“It will be so useful in testing all pre-operative patients for elective surgeries as well as potential admissions,” said Bauer. “This is a complete game-changer in our fight against COVID-19.”

For Midwest Medical, receiving the kits is a matter of retaining resources.

Losey explained that when the hospital was unable to receive test results for several days, every possible case had to be treated as a positive. For those cases, personal protection equipment–gloves, gowns, masks–became a concern as up to 25 of each were used in a day for each case. The hospital hasn’t been able to order more gowns since February, leading staff to start making their own from a pattern designed by Jack Kirkby, a Galena resident.

“It’s just going to dramatically make things easier and safer for us and all our patients who need it,” said Losey.

As the shortage of equipment became more of a concern, Schmidt and Losey kept pushing, taking their case to the Abbott representative, who shared the concerns with Abbott leadership.

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Eventually, Midwest Medical’s cries were heard and the hospital is now one of the first rural labs to be able to run the tests in-house.

“We really just kind of needed to do the advocating to get the testing kits,” explained Schmidt.

Schmidt noted the hospital lab has had the PCR analyzer, which is generally used in larger labs, for three years. Lab staff did a software update to be able to run the tests and then everything was set. The test kits contain everything needed from the swabs to the viral transport media–the fluid in a sterile container that the swab is put in after testing is complete.

Losey explained the test kits allow hospital staff to know if a person is positive for COVID-19 prior to the person being admitted. The test kits will also be used for those undergoing surgery, as a test is required within 72 hours of the procedure.

“It’s just going to dramatically make things easier and safer for us and all our patients who need it,” said Losey.

Having results right away definitely takes away some stress, said Schmidt.

Schmidt said Midwest Medical is allocated to receive two kits–each with 24 tests–each week. With two tests used for quality control, Midwest Medical had 46 tests the first week. The tests will be reserved for higher risk and pre-operative patients until there’s more of a stockpile, at which time the hospital will open up more testing. She’s hopeful that’s the case by the fall, when she also hopes to have a third analyzer in place at Midwest Health Clinic in Elizabeth.

“We’re blessed,” said Schmidt. “It’s very cool to have this testing in-house.”

Schmidt noted that even if the tests aren’t run in-house, the hospital and clinic is opening up more testing for those who meet the screening criteria.

“We still are obtaining specimens for testing even if we don’t do it here,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt said those with questions should call Midwest Health Clinic at 815-776-7381 or the COVID hotline between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 815-777-6073 or after 5 p.m. at 815-777-1340.