An unconventional partnership between the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL), St. Joseph Health and the Amarillo Pathology Group Physician’s Preferred Laboratory (APG-PPL) was recently recognized for its contribution to COVID-19 testing in Texas.
Established in 1980, the Texas A&M AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence recognize the contributions and commitments of individuals across all of Texas A&M AgriLife’s agencies.
At this year’s presentation the COVID-19 testing partnership between TVMDL, St. Joseph Health, and APG-PPL was honored with the Partnership Award.
The Partnership Award is designed to recognize individuals or teams within AgriLife that establish and implement collaborative efforts with industry, agency, university, or associations that advance AgriLife’s mission to serve Texans and the world.
Last March, public health laboratories began to struggle with the onslaught of testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Most human health laboratories are not equipped to perform high throughput testing and therefore lacked the capacity to keep up with the demand brought on by the pandemic. In contrast, TVMDL routinely tests herds and flocks of animals for a variety of diseases and has the equipment and expertise to perform thousands of tests each day.
Recognizing this, officials at TVMDL and St. Joseph Health came together to create a unique partnership. The agreement allowed St. Joseph Health staff to use TVMDL’s high throughput equipment and laboratory space to perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
To make this partnership come to fruition, both entities had to overcome state and federal hurdles to receive authorization to perform testing on human samples at a lab traditionally used for veterinary diagnostics.
Administrators from TVMDL and St. Joseph Health worked diligently to create a proposal that met the rigorous requirements of the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), the entity that regulates all human laboratory testing in the United States. Once approved, TVMDL staff trained St. Joseph Health staff on the agency’s high throughput equipment while St. Joseph Health simultaneously ensured TVMDL’s quality assurance and biosafety procedures complied with CLIA requirements.
Testing officially began at TVMDL’s College Station laboratory in late April 2020.
“The St. Joseph Health and TVMDL teams quickly collaborated as scientists to develop a seven-day-a-week operation that completed over 20,000 tests for SARS-CoV-2 by the end of September,” President and CEO of St. Joseph Health Theron Park said. “What’s most impressive is that this program provided a reliable result that was within the hands of the clinician with 24 hours.”
Knowing the critical need for testing in the Texas Panhandle, TVMDL hoped to find a similar partner who could utilize the agency’s Amarillo laboratory. APG-PPL was eager to increase their testing capacity for the region and the TVMDL/AGP-PPL partnership was quickly formed.
“We, like others all over the country and globe, were struggling with test capacity forcing providers to send samples to state and national labs that were already overloaded,” PPL Partner Robert Todd, MD, said. “This partnership created the opportunity for the communities of the Texas Panhandle to have much needed access to timely, accurate testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
Within one month of beginning testing in College Station, testing began at TVMDL’s Amarillo laboratory with APG-PPL staff using the agency’s equipment and laboratory space. Both entities credit State Representative Four Price for his assistance in clearing the required hurdles to allow the partnership to quickly make a significant impact in the area.
“The TVMDL and APG-PPL partnership has been vital to the Amarillo and Texas Panhandle region,” Representative Price said. “The operation of this lab has allowed increased testing during critical points for the region and allowed local governments and businesses to make informed decisions. This unconventional and innovative partnership of human healthcare and veterinary medicine is a testament to both organizations’ ingenuity as well as their commitment to service and community.”
Through these partnerships, St. Joseph Health and APG-PPL performed over 51,000 tests using TVMDL equipment and laboratory space in 2020.
“Our staff prepares for events like these every day, but it’s so rare that those plans are put into action.” TVMDL Director Bruce Akey, MS, DVM, said. “It’s even more rare that we play such a substantial role in protecting human health. It’s a role we’ve spent 50+ years preparing for yet never expected, but one we were able to fulfill alongside our human healthcare partners at St. Joseph Health and APG-PPL.”
The team honored with this award consists of TVMDL professionals Dr. Amy Swinford, Dr. Kiril Dimitrov, Dr. Pam Ferro, Dr. Megan Schroeder, and Dr. Owais Khan. APG-PPL team members are Dr. Andrew Hoot, Ms. Heidi Dorman, and Ms. Charlyn Snow. St. Joseph Health members are Ms. Kimberly Dubose and Dr. Marcela Jimenez.