TIFTON, Ga. (WALB) - In March, while the Tifton area was getting hit hard with COVID-19 cases, Dr. Jessica Beier, Medical Director of Southwell Laboratories and Medical Director of Quality and Patient Safety, was quarantined at home after returning from a vacation in Chile.
“When I got home, I was ready to activate,” said Dr. Beier. “While I was gone, we had used the CDC lab, the state lab, our usual reference lab, and all those labs were becoming overwhelmed. I was quarantined at home, and I brought my microscope and started doing pathology from home. Because I have a horse farm, I am well aware that we have a vet diagnostic lab here in Tifton that’s part of UGA. I also know that this lab here does high complexity molecular diagnostic testing because of all of the infectious disease testing they normally do on animals.”
Beier wondered why not partner with UGA and the lab that was right in her own backyard to meet the pandemic head-on?
Dr. Hemant Naikare, Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Lab (TVDIL) director and Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine remembers it this way:
“I remember Dr. Beier reaching out to me. She wanted to know if we could assist with COVID testing, so we started correspondence the first week of April. I told her that we had the infrastructure, and we do polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which is an essential component of processing COVID-19 tests. I explained to her that we could help, but our major hurdle was CLIA.”
CLIA stands for Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, and for labs to process human samples, they must be registered and certified under CLIA.
The TVDIL is able to run an average of about 125 COVID-19 tests per day, many of which are sent over from Southwell’s drive-thru testing site, and these are processed usually within 24 hours. Most inpatients at Tift Regional Medical Center who need to be tested use a rapid test that is processed through the in-house laboratory there.
While the TVDIL was originally only testing samples from Southwell, they have also partnered with two other local hospital systems recently: Crisp Regional Health System in Cordele and Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie.
“We felt that we could really contribute to human testing, and so we are ahead of the curve,” said Dr. Naikare. “At UGA, ‘One Health’ is the term used to describe the intersection of human, animal, and environmental health. We are providing diagnostic solutions, and this is One Health in action.”
“I feel very lucky that we happened to be in the right town with the right lab and the right people to make this happen,” said Dr. Beier. “This has taken a lot of teamwork from everyone involved, and I think this shows how much people care about their community to work together and collaborate like this in a crisis. I am so grateful to all my staff at the TRMC lab who has helped to make this partnership work, and all of us at Southwell are grateful to Dr. Naikare and his entire team for everything they have done and continue to do.”