Modernized lab ahead for North Big Horn Hospital

Erin Mullins

North Big Horn Hospital is remodeling their laboratory to allow for more space and modernized equipment.
The North Big Horn Hospital District Board of Directors approved the $577,000 upgrade, to be completed by Groathouse Construction, at the January board meeting.
Kathy Walker, Director of Ancillary Services at North Big Horn Hospital, said that the lab still has the same structure from when it was built in the 1980s and needs to be modernized. The need for a lab upgrade became apparent during the pandemic.
“It was fine in the ‘80s. But with technology growth, comes instrumentation that we’ve had to place in the lab that no longer quite fits. And during COVID, it really let us know how much space we needed. Because with viral testing, it’s recommended that you test under a biosafety cabinet and there’s not enough space for that,” Walker said.
The hospital needed a second biosafety cabinet for the amount of testing the lab does, but there is currently no space to put it, she said. The architects remodeling the lab will be redoing and expanding the microbiology area, which will allow space for an additional biosafety cabinet, she said.
Microbiology labs that the hospital may process include urine cultures, blood cultures, throat cultures and tests to determine if an antibiotic is appropriate for the patient. The upgrade will also open up more counter space and cabinetry in the lab.
The entire lab is really crowded, Walker said, which was what prompted the decision to look into a lab upgrade. When the hospital started looking into upgrading the lab, it was apparent the whole lab needed to be upgraded and changed. Extra space will be provided by a room beside the lab which will be remodeled to be part of the upgrade.
With the upgrade, if the lab needs to social distance again, the hospital will be able to do so much more easily than they can now, she said. The hospital lab has not needed to social distance since the pandemic, but during the pandemic running the lab with social distancing was not as efficient due to the lack of space.
Even without the need to social distance, the lab still needs a space upgrade, Walker said.
“It’s just a good idea to be able to have a little bit more space where you’re efficient, you’re not bumping into one another,” she said. “You can move about the lab without worrying about always watching exactly where you are or where everybody else is because if you turn around, you might bump into someone or there’s a cabinet in the way.”
Besides the lack of space, the cabinetry in the lab is in need of an upgrade, as it has not been replaced for 40 years, Walker said. The flooring is being upgraded, as well. Now that the ER has been upgraded, it is good to take another step forward with upgrading the lab, she said.
A large portion of the cost of the lab upgrade, $214,000, will be covered by a grant through the State Loan and Investment Board, said North Big Horn Hospital District CEO Eric Connell.
Walker said while she cannot put an exact date on when the lab upgrade will be completed, it should be completed by the end of the year.
“The architect, in the beginning, seemed to think (the remodel) would probably start sometime in the spring and be completed by the end of the year,” she said.
It is a challenge to remodel the lab because it must be operational 24/7 in order to provide the services the hospital needs, Walker said. The hospital cannot shut the lab down for days or weeks at a time for the construction, so it will be built section by section to allow normal lab operations.
A lot of the construction will be done at night to avoid interfering with lab work, she said. Because some electrical outlets and cables will be moved, the hospital is taking special precautions to ensure that if something went wrong the electronic health record system would not be down.
“Making sure we don’t go down during that time is really important and that we have a backup plan, and we do have downtime processes if that were to happen,” Walker said. “We could still function if we needed to.”
Connell said he is grateful to the board of directors for approving the project and that the hospital intends to be good stewards of the upgraded lab.
“Yet, as exciting and newsworthy a department remodel is, we are most excited about the exceptional care provided to our friends, family and neighbors by the exceptional people who work here,” he said.