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'Someone needs to speak up': New lab system at Baystate causes frustration, concern among providers

 Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Mass.
Paul Franz
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Mass.

A number of providers at Baystate Health say a recent change in how doctors order lab tests is causing widespread problems — and they say that’s compromising patient care.

Earlier this year, Baystate Health — which has hospitals in Springfield and four other western Massachusetts communities — sold its outpatient laboratory business to Labcorp, a national company.

Now, instead of testing blood and other specimens through an in-house service, Baystate Reference Labs, as was the case for years, Baystate providers go through Labcorp. The company does much of its analysis outside of Massachusetts, providers say.

A press release last year from Baystate and Labcorp promised this would “improve the efficiency of routine and specialty lab testing.”

But several providers told us the opposite is true.

“It's horrifying what we are seeing across the board,” said Samantha Keith, an emergency room nurse at Baystate Franklin in Greenfield who agreed to talk about the switch to Labcorp. “Someone needs to speak up now before people have to speak up because there's deaths.”

Keith said medical treatment can be delayed because lab results now take longer to come back. She said some results have gotten lost, so patients have to retake tests.

Keith also said communication between providers and the lab has become confusing and difficult, since there are two computer systems that are not connected.

“We can't order things the way we used to order them,” she said. “There are wound cultures that we can't label and mark appropriately … so lab personnel are getting wound cultures and they're like, ‘I don't even know what area of the body this is from. How can I run the test I need to run?’”

The union representing nurses at Baystate Franklin said it's heard similar complaints from at least a dozen staff.

Several other employees echoed Keith’s concerns, but said they did not feel comfortable criticizing Baystate publicly.

One administrator at a primary care practice affiliated with Baystate said the transition has “wreaked havoc.”

The administrator, who did not want their name used, said some tests that used to take a day now take up to a week, which can be dangerous for patients. For instance, providers can’t prescribe treatment for sexually transmitted diseases until they know what the bacteria is, and that means the infection can get worse while waiting for results.

Providers said some patients have been turned away from Labcorp facilities because their doctor’s lab order went missing. And lab results no longer show up in regular patient records, so providers spend extra time logging into a separate system.

“It is a hard job to work in the medical field. And this merge — with Baystate not making sure that everything was set in place before LabCorp officially took over — made it even harder,” Keith said.

“This needs to be addressed,” she said, “because these are two separate companies and they're obviously not working well together.”

Keith said some providers have even resorted to costly workarounds, such as admitting patients to the hospital for routine care that could be outpatient, just so they have access to in-house lab services.

NEPM reached out to both Baystate and Labcorp about the complaints.

Labcorp did not return multiple requests for comment.

Baystate would not respond to the specific complaints and instead sent a statement saying it is “working closely with physicians and operational personnel to ensure the highest levels of service.”

Baystate said it’s “monitoring key performance metrics.”

Baystate did not answer questions about which tests are still done through its in-house lab or whether there is a special service for labs that must be done quickly.

According to industry news reports, Labcorp has been buying a number of smaller labs across the country, which hospitals sell off for financial reasons.

Baystate has also sold other assets, including its insurance company, Health New England.

In the original lab announcement, there was no mention of how much Labcorp paid for Baystate’s laboratory business.

Both Keith and the primary care administrator said some of the problems have been resolved since the lab change happened in March. But overall, they said, the system is much worse than before the transition.

Disclosure: Baystate Health is an underwriter of NEPM. The newsroom operates independently.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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