Aspen Valley Hospital’s new Director of Laboratory Services, Mary Poskus-Fell (pictured), joins the AVH staff at a critical time. She is replacing Julie Mathias, who is retiring after 15 years at the lab, including the last five as director.
“I’ve been in a lot of labs over the last 35 years,” says Poskus-Fell, “and what I’ve noticed is that people working here really care about the job they are doing, the organization, our patients and each other.”
That team has been quietly fulfilling a key role in the community’s COVID-19 response. Under the leadership of Mathias, they’ve been working to administer and analyze results from the ever-evolving COVID-19 testing regime. They have also provided the support and expertise needed to identify the most appropriate PCR and antibody tests to improve testing capabilities in Aspen.
“In the early days of the pandemic, we had to send specimens out to the state lab for processing and wait days to get a result back. That was just agony,” explains Mathias.
“The physicians we work with did a lot of research on the various tests that were becoming available — they deserve a lot of credit for resolving the situation,” she says.
Identifying the right tests was a daunting task at first. At one point there were 90 tests on the market, most without approval of any kind from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Eventually the FDA did give Emergency Use Authorization for a handful of tests, including the PCR test now used at Aspen Valley Hospital.
“As a clinical laboratory we have to follow strict guidelines — if it doesn’t have Emergency Use Authorization, I don’t want it in my lab,” Mathias explains.
Mathias also worked closely with her counterpart at Valley View Hospital, Jeanette Refior, to bring reliable testing to the Roaring Fork Valley. “We worked collaboratively and shared our resources from the start,” Mathias says.
The AVH lab is now able to turn around test results in just a few hours. “We are doing rapid PCR testing at the hospital now, which determines if you are currently sick with COVID-19 and allows doctors and patients to make timely decisions about treatment. We also can test for antibodies in-house,” she says. All testing requires a physician referral and is conducted at the hospital’s Respiratory Evaluation Center.
Poskus-Fell is excited to lead a lab that is well equipped and staffed with people who are committed to their work. As the new director she will be overseeing 22 employees, including laboratory assistants who interface with patients and the medical technologists with expertise in hematology, microbiology and chemistry. They also work with the blood bank and help with point-of-care testing outside the hospital.
One of the first changes to occur since her arrival — and last before Mathias’ departure — is the relocation of the lab draw site in the midvalley from a space co-located with the After-Hours Medical Care clinic in Basalt to the Midvalley Health Institute building in Basalt, where Aspen Valley Primary Care is also located.
The new address of the midvalley lab is 1460 East Valley Road, Suite 264. “This new location is closer to providers and offers easier access for patients,” Mathias says.
Going forward, Poskus-Fell is particularly excited to work at AVH for a number of reasons. In addition to a professional staff, she’s impressed with AVH and its facilities. “There is a lot of great technology at AVH, especially for a critical access hospital of its size,” she says.
She is also eager about working in a community that focuses so intensely on wellness, which is reflected in everything from the recreational and athletic activities people participate in, to the healthy foods that are prepared each day in AVH’s Castle Creek Cafe. She points to patient satisfaction, which is exceptionally high at AVH (in the 92nd percentile of all hospitals nationwide for inpatient satisfaction), as another reason to be excited about working here.
Although Poskus-Fell will soon be managing employees, collaborating with other departments and overseeing a critical department at the hospital, she will also be analyzing test samples alongside her employees.
“In an environment as small as ours, we need to be able to jump in when needed,” she explained. “Both Julie and I still go ‘on the bench’,” she says.
For more information about the lab and its new location, call 970.544.1528.