Copley Hospital in Morristown is now able to test patients for COVID-19 and get results back in hours.
With new machinery, the hospital will no longer have to ship out hundreds of nasal swab samples weekly, waiting days for results.
According to Copley chief medical officer Don Dupuis, the Rheonix COVID PCR Testing Analyzer indicates whether a person is positive or negative for the COVID-19 virus the same day they were tested.
With this approach, the hospital can immediately begin patient care without all the hassle, cost and stress of waiting days for a test result.
“It will also make Copley a safer place to receive care because we’ll know, same day, who is and is not COVID-positive. This is a substantial improvement in the care we can provide our patients, and a huge burden off of both patients and staff,” Dupuis said. “Without same-day testing, we had to consider that every patient might be COVID positive.”
According to Copley CEO Joe Woodin, samples have so far been “parsed out,” with nasal swabs transferred to the University of Vermont Medical Center or to the state health department.
From there, they were usually sent, by car, to the Broad Institute, the biomedical and genomic research center that is part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
Sometimes they were — and still are — shipped to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Topnotch places, Woodin said, but nothing compared to in-house convenience.
“It’s a game changer,” Woodin said. “No more courier services.”
Copley administers 350-400 tests a week, Woodin said, mostly through its drive-through testing clinic.
Same-day testing doesn’t override quarantine, whether from traveling to Vermont or from being in contact with someone who tested positive. People still have to do that for a week before being tested.
But, shipping out samples and waiting for results has grown 2-3 days to 5-7 days as more people quarantine, effectively turning a quarantine period into two weeks.
“With this, that second seven days is gone,” Woodin said.
Woodin bemoans the lack of a national distribution infrastructure, which means hospitals have to do their own shopping. In the beginning of the pandemic, when there was a scare over scarcity of personal protective and other medical equipment, Woodin said it was like a “war scene,” with everyone scrambling to get what they could.
Copley, being smaller than other hospitals, was able to act nimbly and quickly to secure a machine.
“There are some people, I’m one of them, who think it should happen nationally,” he said of COVID-related medical equipment distribution. “But, if it isn’t happening nationally, let us pick up the baton.”
The Rheonix cost $50,000, not counting the supplies.
“It was unbudgeted and unexpected, as much of this has been, so, we had to write the check and make it happen,” he said.
Copley’s ethics committee has pushed the state to make testing supplies available to all Vermont hospitals.
In a July letter to Gov. Phil Scott, the committee called for the state to “immediately begin managing the acquisition and equitable distribution” of testing kits to all.
“An unacceptable double standard of care exists in Vermont, and it needs to be addressed,” the letter said.
Woodin noted, “We should be looking for fairness, whether it’s sparsely populated areas or Chittenden county.”
Copley has grouped up with other Lamoille County health care providers to make sure enough doctors, nurses and support staff are available, as they are continually exposed to infection.
Given the small area and staff numbers, people can’t afford to lose workers to illness, be it COVID, the flu or common colds.
“We know COVID isn’t going away. It’s going to be a tough winter,” he said.