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Untimely shortage: Medical lab technicians

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 4:42 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Every day the staff at the state’s Public Health Lab processes tests seeking answers important--even critical-- to our health. Health screenings for the state’s infants, testing well water and, of course, infectious diseases.

“Tuberculosis, enteric bacteria that cause food-borne illness, STD’s, HIV, things of that nature. Of course COVID-19 disease as well.” says Dr. Mark Pandori, the lab’s director. “We’re up too 2,000 tests run a day. We’ve run a quarter of a million COVID-19 tests.”

The result is the same across the medical establishment. The virus adds to those already existing health concerns threatening to overwhelm the system.

One might hope that extra load would be met with additional resources, beginning with more staff. In fact, the government’s response provided funding to hire more staff. The problem is, qualified lab technicians are hard to find.

“It’s a synergy of two problems,” says Dr. Pandori. “Those people are pretty rare to begin with.” And increased demand has public and labs competing for the same small pool of candidates.

There appears to be no immediate solution. So, should the rest of us be concerned? Dr. Pandori says yes.

“It can mean that it can take longer to get test results. If you don’t have enough staff in the lab that means a few people running from section to section. That can increase turnaround times and so that can have a direct impact on the public who need quick lab results to get good medical care. So I think we should all be concerned about this.”

But there’s little he or anyone else in his line of work can do about it. Again, the answer comes back to us.

“Really the only action that we can do to keep this thing mitigated is for individuals to keep strong and remember that wearing a mask, washing your hands and avoiding large groups is only way we’re going to get out of this until a vaccine is widespread.”

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