Lab Suppliers Step Up In Katrina’s Aftermath

Industry firms were often first to get supplies and relief to laboratories affected by the storm

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CEO SUMMARY: It’s a story that escapes media coverage. As Hurricane Katrina advanced northward, often the first source of fresh supplies and disaster relief for laboratories affected by the storm was their instrument vendor or other supplier. Many of these companies were prepositioning needed laboratory supplies and relief items even while Hurricane Katrina was still offshore.

ONE REASON clinical laboratory testing services could be delivered in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is because many laboratory vendors took proactive steps to help laboratories throughout the affected region.

The stories which follow are just a small sample of the extraordinary actions taken across the laboratory industry. They illustrate how emergency planning and disaster response in the private sector is helping individual laboratories maintain their clinical services, even when they find themselves, literally, in the eye of the hurricane.

Swinging Into Action

Abbott Diagnostics recognized that, not only would Hurricane Katrina affect a wide swath of the Gulf Coast, but it was going to create significant destruction inland as it moved north into the heartland. “As we identified the scale and scope of this catastrophe, we assembled a response team and began contacting our customers and employees,” stated Christy Wistar, Divisional Vice President, U.S. Marketing and Commercial Operations at Abbott Diagnostics. “Some hospitals had not gotten any help at the time we contacted them. Our goal was to understand their problems and identify the types of diagnostic supplies they needed. As we delivered products, many customers told us we were the first relief of any kind to reach them at their site.”

Many pathologists and lab directors are familiar with Abbott’s fleet of three semi-tractor rigs, used in their Architour activities. These are mobile labs and instrument showrooms which travel to the front door of laboratory customers. (See TDR, September 20th, 2004.) The company put these three trucks to effective use in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

“We retrofitted one of Architour lab-on-wheels with high-volume chemistry/immunoassay analyzers and sent it to Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans,” noted Wistar. “Another Architour rig was fully outfitted with mobile devices and crammed with reagents, glucose meters and strips—the things we knew would be needed—and sent to the Astrodome and Reliant Arena in Houston. We got hematology onboard and added i-STAT. Any space that was left, we packed with Pedialyte, Ensure, Similac, and similar products. (See pages 2-4.) The third Architour truck transported supplies throughout the affected areas.”

Sending Food & Supplies

Sysmex Corporation was also proactive as the hurricane approached. “We were preparing a shipment to go to the Ochsner Clinic Foundation,” stated Ron Walczak, Sysmex’s Marketing Communications Director. “As the scale of the disaster grew, our COO, John Kershaw, sent a couple of our senior staff members out shopping. They bought $25,000 worth of food and toiletries. These were loaded on the truck, along with additional stockpiles of reagents, that was about to depart with a regularly-scheduled shipment. Our truck left Friday and arrived at Ochsner on Sunday.”

Ochsner Clinic Foundation has been operational before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. It sits on high ground in New Orleans and never flooded. Generator power kept it going. But the Ochsner laboratory had all sorts of needs in the days following the hurricane. “The Ochsner lab emailed us to say that they appreciated the support of our technical assistance center in helping them get their BCS’s up and running so they could run coagulation tests,” said Pattie Overstreet-Miller, Dade-Behring’s Vice President of Corporate Communication.

“We’ve worked with all the courier services going into the affected area,” observed Connie DuBois, Director of Customer Communications and Public Relations at Dade-Behring. “It takes police and FEMA escorts to get supplies delivered. We’re sending shipments of reagent-grade water and topping off those shipments with drinking water. We’re helping labs to stockpile supplies.”

“Our customer support distribution center in Atlanta worked around the clock throughout the Labor Day holidays to keep urgently-needed supplies moving,” she continued. “We’ve been canvassing laboratories throughout the affected areas in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to identify their needs and get supplies into their hands.”

“Logistics are a big issue,” stated Brad M. Ditmar, Director of Marketing, Instrument Systems at Bayer Diagnostics. “After the storm hit, we mapped the areas for which transportation would be affected. We reached out to all hospitals and laboratories in the affected area and continue to do so. We’ve maintained contact with the three hospitals still functioning in New Orleans—Ochsner Clinic Foundation, East Jefferson General Hospital, and West Jefferson Medical Center.

Logistics Is A Challenge

“Across the affected area, we’ve had to assess the situation, lab by lab,” he continued. “Hospitals that are still open are working out logistics for getting supplies shipped in from nearby cities. One big concern for these folks is their ability to find staging locations. It’s almost like a M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) situation.”

The value—and effectiveness—of these private sector efforts by lab industry suppliers should not be underestimated. Quotes in a September 8, 2005, Wall Street Journal article capture the dramatic tension of the first days following the flooding disaster in New Orleans. Ochsner Clinic Foundation’s emergency chief Joseph Guarisco stated, “A lot of hospitals feel they could be more effective working directly with the vendor. It may be counter to what FEMA is trying to do, but it’s certainly faster.”

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