Celebrate National Medical Laboratory Week 2021 with PHO!

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14 April 2021

Each April, the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science designates one week to recognize and acknowledge the vital role that medical laboratory professionals play in the health of all Canadians. In addition to improving Ontario’s health care system by providing critical testing, Public Health Ontario (PHO) laboratory staff also provide expertise in medical microbiology and testing strategy.

Over the past year, laboratory professionals have played a crucial role in the COVID-19 response across Canada and beyond. In particular, PHO laboratory staff have been essential in ramping up COVID-19 testing and helping Ontario track the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants.

National Medical Laboratory Week is an opportunity to honour laboratory professionals for the vital part that they play in research, surveillance and improving patient care. In honour of National Medical Laboratory Week, we are profiling some of PHO’s dedicated laboratory professionals and most notably, how their work has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Profile - PHO Laboratory Experts

Dean Maxwell

Dean Maxwell, Lab Manager, Molecular Diagnostics
Virus Detection, COVID-19 Response and Whole Genome Sequencing Laboratory
Public Health Ontario, Toronto Laboratory



Number of years working as a lab professional: 24 years
Reason for pursing career as a lab professional: I have always had interest in the healthcare industry and sciences in general.  At PHO, we get to play a significant role in ensuring Ontario residents are healthy from behind the scenes.
How the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your work: PHO is a leader in COVID-19 testing for the province and we are changing the landscape with variant of concern screening and whole genome sequencing testing.  PHO continues to be at the forefront of changing and advancing technologies.
Professional highlight over the past year: Laboratory testing has been a critical component of this pandemic and it has been humbling to see the professionalism of the lab staff and the commitment everyone has put towards ensuring we provide accurate and timely results to the province.


Georgina Ralevski, Senior Manager,
Quality Assurance and Customer Service
Public Health Ontario, Toronto Laboratory



Number of years working as a lab professional: 32 years
Reason for pursing career as a lab professional: I studied microbiology at the University of Toronto and became interested in being a part of the field of microbiology that would allow physicians to diagnose infectious diseases for their patients.
How the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your work: In my role as quality manager, I have supported the regions remotely for many years; however, we have become more reliant on remote contact with the pandemic. One of the biggest changes for me is the ability to manage primarily from a distance.
Professional highlight over the past year: The experience that has stood out the most in the last year is how laboratories, which are one part of a complex healthcare system, adapted quickly to the province’s testing needs. I was grateful to work within an integrated Provincial Diagnostic Network to perform timely and accurate COVID-19 testing to inform patient management, surveillance, and epidemiology. It has been a pleasure to connect and work with other laboratory professionals to accomplish these common goals.

Christopher Royer

Christopher Royer, Medical Laboratory Technologist
Public Health Ontario, Kingston Laboratory




Number of years working as a lab professional: 7 years
Reason for pursing career as a lab professional: I wanted to be a part of the health service provided to fellow Ontarians. A career as a laboratory technologist has allowed me to put my heart and effort into the health of many.
How the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your work: The Public Health Ontario laboratory in Kingston was the first regional laboratory to start COVID-19 testing in February 2020. With the rise in samples from approximately 60 a day to over 3,000 – our team was able to adapt quickly to meet provincial demand and achieve our required turnaround time. It has been a very challenging year for me and our laboratory, but it has also been extremely gratifying with our contribution towards Ontario’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
Professional highlight over the past year: In September 2020, the laboratory in Kingston saw a drastic increase in COVID-19 workload. With flexible scheduling and increased capacity, our team was able to continue to meet the provincial demand and achieve our turnaround time. At that time, all Public Health Ontario laboratories were performing tremendous testing quality and volume – over 15,500 COVID-19 specimens were tested within a 24-hour period. This was an incredible feeling. The mass testing achievements we have sustained over the last year have been remarkable. The work of our laboratory staff does has tremendous patient impact and is critical in the efforts against COVID-19.


Helen Lai, Medical Laboratory Technologist, Virus Detection
Public Health Ontario, Toronto Laboratory




Number of years working as a lab professional: 12 years
Reason for pursing career as a lab professional: I pursued a career as a lab professional because it allowed me to apply my scientific knowledge and technical laboratory skills and also make a positive impact on public health. 
How the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your work: My work has become more dynamic and fast-paced. The lab transformed to include dedicated sections for COVID-19 testing with a new processing area and many new state-of-the-art instruments to handle the massive amount of samples. I am constantly staying current with the changes to policies and procedures that are taking place to improve COVID-19 testing. 
Professional highlight over the past year: When COVID-19 testing achieved a turnaround time of less than 24 hours. It was a significant moment for me knowing that it was a combined effort of so many dedicated people working tirelessly towards a common goal.

Louis Litsas

Louis Litsas, Operations Director,
Provincial Testing, Bacteriology, Environmental and Genomics Core
Public Health Ontario



Number of years working as a lab professional: Over 25 years
Reason for pursing career as a lab professional: My curious nature of human illnesses and diseases, as well as being able to help patients in need of accurate lab results to live a healthy life.
How the COVID-19 pandemic has changed your work: In addition to being concerned about creating a safe environment for our lab staff, I also have to be responsive to the needs of the province, as our testing volumes have continued to increase for the most part of the year. It has also been a challenge to operationalize so many different testing platforms and methods for COVID-19 diagnosis.
Professional highlight over the past year: The resiliency the lab staff and teams across our PHO laboratory network have shown continues to impress me. The amount of spirit and support that the teams provide each other in the lab and most of all, our patients, is remarkable. Each day I feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated group of lab professionals.

Thank you to all of our incredible laboratory staff!

As laboratory experts continue to rise to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, PHO would like to thank our incredible laboratory professionals across the province for all of their hard work, flexibility and commitment over the past year. The work of these dedicated individuals continues to strengthen Ontario’s pandemic response.

You can join us in acknowledging the tireless efforts of laboratory professionals across Canada by taking part in National Medical Laboratory Week, as virtual events are scheduled to take place across the country. 

Interesting Facts

  • According to the Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science, approximately 1.2 million laboratory tests are performed by medical lab professionals every day in Canada, which helps physicians diagnose and treat a variety of health issues, including cancer and diabetes.
  • The first COVID-19 case detected in Ontario by the Public Health Ontario laboratory was on January 25, 2020.
  • PHO’s laboratory staff have completed almost 3.1 million COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic.
Event

PHO Microbiology Rounds: COVID-19 Vaccination in Dialysis Patients

This presentation will provide background on the impact of COVID-19 on patients on dialysis, including COVID-19 outbreaks in dialysis units.

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Updated 14 April 2021