CEO SUMMARY: It was right before Thanksgiving weekend when LAB-Interlink laid off most of its staff and was left with a skeleton crew. Since that date, at least one major laboratory customer was unable to get needed service and parts, causing a total shutdown of its automated line. However, other customers of LAB-Interlink report no unusual problems or service issues.
IN THE WAKE OF LAB-Interlink’s financial woes, laboratory customers using the company’s automated systems give mixed opinions about the availability and quality of services.
On one side, there are laboratory customers of LAB-Interlink who report minimal disruption or problems with the company since its radical downsizing in late November. Then there is the other side, with laboratories encountering problems in keeping their LAB-Interlink system in full operation.
At least one large laboratory in the United States has been left with no service, no parts, no support, and no communication from LAB-Interlink. The resulting problems from an inoperative automation line have exposed the laboratory to potential loss of its clients and revenue. It is fighting to maintain turnaround time and other services.
At West Tennessee Healthcare, in Jackson, Tennessee, Leo Serrano, FACHE, Executive Director of Laboratory Services, first got an inkling of possible problems at LAB-Interlink when he heard about layoffs in the company early last year. His laboratory serves a multi-hospital health system and has a thriving outreach program.
“We’ve generally had a good experience since the installation of our LAB-Interlink automated system in 2000,” stated Serrano. “However, that changed during the last Thanksgiving holiday weekend. There was trouble with the automated line on Thanks- giving Day. Neither parts, software help nor service were available for the holiday weekend. Staff at LAB-Interlink told us to shut down the line. By Monday, LAB-Interlink was not even answering the phone.
“Needless to say, with our automated line shut down, we had to scramble,” he added. “If it wasn’t for the marvelous efforts of our staff and the remarkable things they’ve done to meet customer expectations, we could have lost clients and the associated revenue. With no automation to meet our turnaround times, our lab staff has been working miracles to keep our clients satisfied and stay on schedule!”
One element that helped Serrano’s lab cope with the unexpected loss of its automated line was the extensive work flow redesign completed by his laboratory by mid-2003. “Fortunately, we used Lean management methods to streamline the work processes in our laboratory earlier in the year,” observed Serrano.
“That paid big dividends when it was finished, but it’s paying even bigger dividends during this crisis,” he explained. “Our staff is determined to make this whole experience transparent to the clients, even to the ER staff—and Lean has provided them with the sophisticated management tools to accomplish this!”
De-Install Under Way
Serrano has provided parts from his automated system to help other LAB-Interlink users keep their automation lines running. His laboratory is also in the process of de-installing the LAB-Interlink system. A new automated system is en route from Europe.
Astute and experienced when it comes time to negotiate contracts for his laboratory, Serrano originally signed a contract with Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics (OCD) when he chose LAB-Interlink as the automation system of choice. OCD was a distributor of LAB-Interlink’s products.
“Because the contract was between our lab and OCD, I now don’t have to go to the board and explain how we lost $1 million in hardware,” stated Serrano. “OCD is standing by their agreement. They are replacing LAB-Interlink with the Thermoelectron system, currently used in Europe and Asia. It is marketed as ‘enGen™ ’ in the United States.
“However, this system won’t be operational until April or May of this year,” added Serrano. “It means our staff must work at least six months under sustained pressure before things return to some semblance of normal.”
No Problems At Kaiser
In Portland, Oregon, the regional laboratory at Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region is an example of a LAB- Interlink customer that reports no difficulties in obtaining parts or getting service for its automated line. “Our system was built and bought from the Canadian arm of the company in January 2002,” said Dixie McFadden, Administrative Director of Laboratories at Kaiser. “Before its purchase by LAB-Interlink, the company was called Labotix.
“We started with front-end automation in 1997,” she noted. “Automation is embedded and integrated into our way of doing business, reinforced by the laboratory design principles we learned during our laboratory’s ISO-9000 certification. We added the new system so we could connect front end automation to some of our instruments, allowing us to boost productivity.”
McFadden had heard rumors about bankruptcy problems with the company and wanted reassurance. On January 15, Kaiser Permanente NW received a call from the LAB-Interlink in Canada. It was told that “creditors have accepted our offer, and the company remains solvent and in business.”
Most likely, neither of these two examples tell the real story about the impact LAB-Interlink’s problems are having upon its laboratory customers. But they do powerfully illustrate how the vicissitudes of luck or fate can deliver totally different experiences to different