Creating an Automated Lab that Inspires Employees
Involving clinical lab staff in the design process is key to fostering a culture of innovation
Santiago (Santy) Galvez is the vice president of lab operations for Quest Diagnostics. Santy joined Quest in January 2019 and is currently responsible for the overall East Region lab operations. This encompasses the state-of-the-art automation lab in Clifton, NJ, and four other labs, as well as Quest’s extensive professional lab services (PLS) labs. Santy has master’s degrees in biomedical & mechanical engineering and business administration and has been in the medical device industry his entire career.
In the diagnostics industry, so much has changed due to COVID-19. The pandemic put projects everywhere on hold to addressed global health concerns and make room for its impact. At a time when many jobs went remote, clinical lab professionals had to show up as frontline heroes to assist in mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Two years later, clinical lab staff are still showing up every day to continue contributing to better health care for all.
Optimizing our lab
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, at Quest Diagnostics, we were in the midst of challenging what a traditional lab looked like to enhance quality, capacity, and efficiency while improving the employee experience. We remained committed to moving our East Region lab operations from our legacy lab in Teterboro, NJ, to Clifton, NJ, despite the pandemic challenges.
The two buildings stood just west of New York City, only 10 miles apart, but we didn’t only want a physical move—we wanted to promote a shift in employees’ mindsets when they first walked into our new lab.
“The facility’s design was a team effort, aimed at fostering a culture of innovation through collaboration.”
We viewed the move as an opportunity to invite our employees into the design process. Since the Teterboro lab was their home away from home for 40 years, we wanted to harness their thoughts and expertise for the updates. Before we broke ground on the new lab, we convened hundreds of employees to design their spaces.
The Clifton lab was built for our employees, with our employees. Our employees sketched out spaces, thoughtfully listened to one another, and found creative solutions as problems arose. At a time when companies are competing for talent, involving our employees in the design process was key to conveying our commitment to our workforce. We found that they experienced an increased sense of ownership and pride in our new lab.
In January 2021, we were proud to begin processing samples in Clifton, one of the largest medical laboratories globally, featuring extensive automation capabilities. The lab is state-of-the-art and was purpose-built: every aspect was created to enhance our commitment to high-volume diagnostic testing services, offering superior medical quality and increased productivity, and with consideration of our capacity to meet current and future regional demands.
The power of automation
The Clifton facility is unlike any other. Its automated environment offers employees skill-building opportunities and the ability to focus on the high-value work of providing diagnostic insights. It features two distinct automated lines for clinical testing and a bridge design that enhances efficiency, with an impressive oculus mezzanine, offering staff and visitors an intimate view of lab operations without interrupting floor activity. Of course, we left room for expansion, and can add another automation line on our main automation floor to adapt to any increased testing demands the future might bring.
Automation has several uses in our Clifton lab, primarily serving to enhance the lab employees’ workflow. First, the facility uses barcode tracing solutions to track and store specimens, making it easier for health care providers to request follow-up tests or further analysis in real time. Most impressively, our automation allows us to use very little blood volume to perform numerous tests. This is beneficial to patients, particularly those who are older or have conditions that may require sensitive care. It also enables physicians to run additional tests without further phlebotomy.
"Automation has several uses in our Clifton lab, primarily serving to enhance the lab employees’ workflow."
Ultimately, the facility’s design was a team effort, aimed at fostering a culture of innovation through collaboration. Its ability to deliver superior provider and patient experiences is due both to a workforce that was involved in the project’s progress from beginning to end, and the innovative automation technology that helped enable record numbers of diagnostic testing and reporting. The lab’s impressive construction has already enhanced the use of our next-generating sequencing and digital pathology capabilities, providing access to insights for a broad number of patients. Through COVID-19 and beyond, we look forward to using that innovation to do so much more.
Our people make the lab
While the automation is impressive, we have found that it is our people who make the lab great and drive so much of our innovation. The pandemic put our staff to the test and many employees in our labs worked around-the-clock throughout the surges of COVID-19 testing. While it’s anyone’s guess what the future will hold, Quest will continue to invest in our technology and our clinical professionals to realize our vision of contributing to better health care for patients.