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News | Feb. 8, 2022

MCAHC lab, over 17K COVID tests analyzed

By Senior Airman Anthony Nin Leclerec 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The McDonald Army Health Center takes pride in sustaining readiness through the provision of preventative, timely and accessible patient-centered care at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

“We have run over 17 thousand [COVID] tests in house,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Amber Huffman, MCAHC laboratory noncommissioned officer in charge. “In a facility of this size, it’s kind of amazing. We’re not a full hospital; we don’t even have an emergency room or an urgent care.”

Effective healthcare is based on medical evidence and the MCAHC laboratory performs the tests which provide much of that evidence.

“We are a medical diagnostics laboratory,” Huffman said. “Our purpose here is to take samples from patients, all types of bodily fluids, and we run those diagnostics tests to give medical providers the answers they need to make medical diagnoses and treatment plans.”

When COVID cases first hit the scene, the MCAHC did not have the capability to conduct polymerase chain reaction tests.

In April 2020, they received two BioFire analyzers which allowed them to run one test per hour each and later got a GeneXpert IV which analyzed four tests per hour.

“The laboratory staff’s response to the COVID pandemic has been nothing short of outstanding,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Boggess, MCAHC laboratory manager. “When I arrived, we were capable of performing six PCR tests an hour and the staff worked tirelessly to ensure the community was able to get fast, reliable results.”

Being an outpatient health center and not a full hospital, the laboratory hours of operation were typically from 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., but lack of equipment and manning required more from each available team member to fulfill the mission.

It would take 10 hours to run 60 tests on average days, but some days had upwards of 120 people testing for COVID. This was on top of their mission with the normal hematology, chemistry and urinalysis tests that are routinely conducted.

In October 2021, the lab acquired a GeneXpert XVI that could run 16 tests on its own, increasing output from six to 22 tests per hour.

 “Since the arrival of the GeneXpert XVI, the testing capabilities of our laboratory have increased four-fold,” Boggess said. “This was critical during the Omicron Variant outbreak. Because of our new piece of equipment, my staff was able to transition from testing approximately 50 samples a day to over 100 samples a day on a consistent basis.”

With the need for timely reporting of COVID cases to properly quarantine, contact trace, and overall protection of the local community, the lab’s mission has been instrumental. According to Boggess, having the right equipment and the amazing staff in the MCAHC laboratory have been essential to protecting the Fort Eustis community from the COVID-19 virus.

The 633d Medical Group and MCAHC medical professionals are standing by to answer your COVID-19 questions and concerns. For 633d MDG patients, please contact the COVID-19 Information Line at (757) 764-0018 Monday - Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., or the Military Health System Nurse Line at 1-800-TRICARE, after business hours/weekends/holidays. For MCAHC patients, please contact 1-866-645-4584 or TRICARE Online to book appointments (virtual appointments) initially.

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