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    Autumn Farmer

    Healthcare Partner: Autumn Farmer, Chief Laboratory Officer, Bon Secours Mercy Health

    Global Impact: Rebecca Rock, RN and SABM CFO talks with HPI about two roles across two countries

    From Lab Trend Visionary to Dark Group CEO: HPI connects with the Founder and Editor of the Dark Report, Robert Michel

    Two Imaging Leaders, Two Systems, One Outcome: Communication

    From Communication Strength to Just in Time Reopening at MGH A conversation with Dr. James Brink, Chief of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital

    From Time Magazine to PBM Influencer: Sherri Ozawa's Mission to Define the Value of Blood

    Buried Blessings: Pandemic perspective from Tom Strauss, CEO at Sisters of Charity Health System

    Katie Castree, Career Healthcare Process Improvement Connoisseur

    Solving Lab Challenges through Recruiting Innovation: HPI connects with Lighthouse Lab Services President, Jon Harol

    Providing Value-Based Care in a Pandemic through Telehealth and Data Resources: An HPI exclusive with Dr. Darrel Weaver

    From Supply Chain Crisis to Innovation in a Pandemic

    From Navy Medic to running a Clinical Laboratory . . . during a pandemic

    Planning for Blood Shortages in a Pandemic with Dr. Claudia Cohn

    Blood Banking is more complex today than ever before. Rob Van Tuyle, President of Vitalant's Blood Division, tells us why.

    Profoundly Impacting Healthcare with Breakthrough Anemia Management

    Supporting Imaging Precisely Where You Need It

    Working Together Makes End of Life Conversations Easier to Have

    The Future of Imaging: Assessing the early impacts of COVID-19 and the path to innovation through Artificial Intelligence (AI) A conversation with Dr. Geoff Rubin

    Pivoting in a Pandemic: How a U.S. 3D printing manufacturer is helping healthcare in its time of need

    Mara G. Aspinall: Diagnostic evangelist educating the world on the power of diagnostics today

    How The Joint Commission is addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic

    CHI Nebraska’s Laboratory Director Connie Wilkins, describes How To Manage a Clinical Laboratory During the pandemic

    Former Commercial Lab Leader Highlights the Hospital Lab as the Solution to Community Sustainability in a Healthcare Crisis

    Three Phases Essential to Crisis Preparedness in Patient Blood Management with Anne Burkey of St. Luke's Health in Boise, ID

    The Importance of Agility in Your Lab

    Dr. Paul Biddinger Shares Three Ways to Prepare for COVID-19

    Bringing Clinical Skills to Operational Leadership During a Time of Crisis; Dr. Blanton, Chief Medical Officer at Peterson Health

    7 Team Attributes to Teams that Work in Challenging Times & Through Rapid Innovation

    From Finding Problems to Saving Lives: The Evolution of Interventional Radiology

    Identifying the Potential with AI in Radiology with Dr. Chung

    Communication in the C-Suite with Cliff Robertson of Catholic Health Initiatives

    Reviewing Your Patient Financial Journey with Melody W. Mulaik, President of Revenue Cycle Coding Strategies

    Ask An Accumen Expert: Carolyn Burns, MD, a Patient Blood Management Advocate

    Linda DeVee, Leads Radiology Services at Edward-Elmhurst Health

    Theresa Mouton, Market Chief Financial Officer with Steward Health

    PELITAS President and CEO Steven Huddleston Wants Patients to Have a Great Experience – Both Clinically and Financially

    How Do You Deal with 2 Billion Forms a Year? Ask Randy Campbell

    Medical Director of Telehealth for UAB Knocks Barriers Down to Treat Patients on Their Terms

    C-Suite Spotlight: Wayne Bohenek Chief Ancillary Services Officer, Bon Secours Mercy Health

    A Leader in the Laboratory Service Line : Pierre Mouawad

    Healthcare Partner: Autumn Farmer, Chief Laboratory Officer, Bon Secours Mercy Health

    How Imbio is using AI to close the gap of missed diagnosis with Mike Hostetler

    Spit Matters with Bill Phillips from Spectrum Solutions

    How COVID-19 inspired TeraRecon to accelerate their imaging solutions to the point of care with Jeff Sorensen

    Autumn Farmer is Bon Secours Mercy Health’s chief laboratory officer. Healthcare Performance Insider caught up with her to ask how her organization – the fifth largest Catholic healthcare system in the country – has responded to COVID-19, and what she sees on the horizon for hospital labs.

    Autumn calls her career in healthcare a “happy accident.” After starting college as a theater major, she took a business course – where she learned the meaning behind the phrase, “starving actor.” She switched gears, and while earning her undergraduate degree in business, she searched for a job. A family friend who worked in one of the Mercy labs told me that they were hiring. So, that was really how I started. I started at the entry-level position of phlebotomist and quickly learned to really love lab.

    In order to move up the ladder, Autumn wanted to learn more about other parts of the hospital. She worked in the hospital’s finance department, working extensively with the pharmacy, for three years. I always knew I wanted to be on the business side. Her experience with lab, finance and pharmacy led her to supply chain. Supply chain at the corporate office was looking for someone with a lab pharmacy background and those people are few and far between, so I was uniquely qualified. I always knew I wanted to get back to labs. When the opportunity presented itself to move into a leadership position, I was very happy to move into that role.

    Merger lessons learned

    As the chief lab officer at legacy Mercy Health, Autumn was part of the merger process in 2018 between Mercy and Bon Secours Health. When we came together to merge, we knew there was a lot of opportunity in lab to move into more consolidation, and more of a structure that operates as one lab throughout our ministry. One of the things we proposed was an alignment of a reporting structure change from the hospitals to the home office, up through my position.

    Among the merger’s top challenges, Autumn said, was getting buy-in from the sites on the new structure. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are many back-office functions that are rolled up at the system level for a large system like Bon Secours Mercy Health. But lab being a clinical department it was a much harder sell, I think, for hospital executives. So that was one of the biggest challenges we faced. Another challenge I had was really understanding the dynamics of each site that I wasn’t familiar with, sites that I hadn’t worked with in the past.

    Becoming one team

    Aligning labs’ cultures in the wake of a merger starts with leadership and aligning to a unified vision for the lab. One of the first things that I did was I met with each of the laboratory directors and shared that my view is that pound for pound, the lab is the most valuable department in the hospital. That’s really a mindset change for many leaders in lab. They’re used to being a support department, and I wanted to empower my team to have a seat at the hospital leadership table.

    The next step was to engage and empower frontline staff. One of the things we’ve been working on there is developing standardized job descriptions. We started with 118 job descriptions, and we’ve gotten down to 45. Autumn’s team is also developing clear career ladders, so that employees understand the growth potential their position has and how their work contributes to the hospital’s success.

    COVID-19: both sprint and marathon

    When the pandemic hit, Autumn’s team put the pedal to the metal. We definitely started out at a sprint pace for the first several months, leading to burnout. We’re starting to pace ourselves more now.

    Positive consequences of the pandemic include stronger and more frequent communication, including daily COVID-related communication with hospital leadership. I have more interaction with all of our managers at each of the sites than I’ve ever had before.

    Another positive practice was the creation of some redundancy in leadership. One of the first things the team put in place was a series of contingency plans to cover what would happen if lab leaders got sick. Today, we have two leaders who can step in and do what I’m doing if I’m if I’m taken out of commission. We did that with each of our levels of leadership across all the laboratories.

    A third positive change, Autumn said, is that the lab is much more visible within hospital leadership. We have a seat at the table and are invited to a lot more meetings. We are valued, and there’s a lot more recognition for what goes on in the lab.

    Staying nimble to adapt to change

    We’ve had to think outside the box to solve problems in a way that I don’t think we ever did before. This includes creating supplies, such as sterile swabs for swabbing for COVID-19. Autumn and her team bought non-sterile swabs and we worked with the system’s sterile processing department to sterilize them. The system has also created its own saline transport medium in response to reduced supply.

    Lab staff has stepped up in many ways to meet needs created by the pandemic. We’ve staffed flu clinics, run flu clinics, things we didn’t think we would do, I think at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, we’ve had to expand into new roles and move people around as necessary to get work done.

    Looking into the future of lab

    The future of lab is really moving out of the basement, becoming that integral part of the care team. We want to focus on how we can provide information for clinical decision-making, versus just results. Artificial intelligence has a big role to play in making that shift over the next five years, Autumn said, both in terms of using lab data and in deploying digital pathology solutions as well.

    The pandemic has changed that future landscape in a few ways, she noted. I think the focus on infectious disease molecular testing will increase. We were already moving in that direction anyway. I think we’ll move in that direction even more, and we’ll want to see more of that performed in our hospital laboratories rather than it being testing that goes out to reference labs.

    She hopes the future will also bring an increased prioritization of hospital labs. I was very surprised to find that I didn’t hit anybody’s allocation lists for COVID-19 supplies. Because they see our hospitals, and a large health system like Bon Secours Mercy Health, as individual hospital labs. They don’t see us as one big lab doing the 20 million tests per year.

    If, she noted, more of the COVID-19 tests had been allocated to the hospital labs rather than to the large reference labs, the country would not have faced problems with extended turnaround times for results. We wouldn’t have seen the problem we saw this year with seven-day turnarounds, 12-day turnaround times, because the testing would have been much closer to the patient. We had the staff to perform the testing, but all of that allocation went only to these large labs, which were then quickly overwhelmed. I’m hoping that’s something that can change so that if another pandemic happens, we’re better prepared as a country to address it.

    In the end, Autumn said, her work to elevate the importance of hospital labs is good for healthcare, and ultimately good for patients. If we can profoundly change the way hospital labs are seen over the next five to 10 years, I’ll be happy with what I did in my career.

     
    Autumn Farmer

    Autumn Farmer

    Chief Laboratory Officer, Bon Secours Mercy Health