HOSPITAL LAB CRUMBLES AMID DEBATE.
Devin May, a lab technician at Ventura County Medical Center, has watched her workplace literally turn to dust. Rain soaks into the walls, loosening chunks of chalky powder. Leaks get so bad, she sometimes pops open an umbrella while working at her microscope.
Across the hall, Clara Tillery transcribes medical records in an office designed as a closet for glassware. She shares the floor space, 8 feet by 10 feet, with 10 years of records, three computers, one typewriter and two co-workers.
The laboratory is so crowded that a bathroom stall is the only place administrators could find to put a hazardous-waste container.
``We're seriously crammed,'' said Jim Filsinger, the laboratory manager. ``Every time we turn around we bump into each other. It makes it very difficult to do our job.''
Plans to replace the 75-year-old laboratory have long been in the works, most recently as part of a $28.7 million improvement proposal including a new hospital kitchen, cafeteria and utility building.
But administrators from Community Memorial Hospital, the private institution across the street, say the proposal calls for excessive spending of taxpayer money. Spending so much to repair the lab, Community Memorial spokesman Douglas Dowie said last week, would be like ``buying a Porsche to fix a flat tire.''
After two weeks of often furious debate, the proposal was shelved Friday. County supervisors vowed to come up with another repair strategy by the end of the year.
After almost 20 years of delays, the time has come to do something, said Dr. Samuel Edwards, chief administrator of the medical center. An inspector from the American College of Pathologists reported on a March 13 visit that the laboratory should be at least five times the size it is now. The inspectors will be back in March 1998. If there is no major change by then, Edwards said, the entire hospital could be forced to close.
More than 900 tests are performed in the lab every day - tests ranging from simple blood cell counts to complex tissue analysis. The 4,800-square-foot laboratory and its 60 workers serve both the hospital and the county's eight community clinics.
The facility looks more like a cluttered classroom than a modern medical laboratory. Rows of refrigerators line the hallways. Trays of test tubes cover the counter tops. Cabinets poke out from under desktops.
It got so crowded last year that administrators moved microbiology equipment to an office across the street. A golf cart now hauls samples back and forth.
The three workers assigned to the transcription room work in shifts of two, but their quarters are still so crowded it's hard to keep things straight.
``We only dream it could be better,'' said Tillery. ``Even when there's only two of us in here, we're always bumping into each other. It makes working a challenge, to say the least.''
Laboratory workers say their work is accurate despite the conditions. But they must always be wary in crowded surroundings with heightened possibility for mixing up two samples or fouling up a test.
``We have to work much harder to make sure the tests are correct,'' said Filsinger. ``Our No. 1 priority is that we get the right result to the right person. We're handicapped, but we still do our job.''
Those handicaps can seem overwhelming at times, said May. A cryptology technician at the hospital for 19 years, she inspects, dyes and reports on 20 to 50 Pap smears a day. The individual glass rectangles are held in cardboard trays piled high on her single counter top.
``I just try to get through it,'' she said. ``I'm actually pretty lucky. I'm still doing the same thing with the same equipment.''
It is a different story for technicians in the section devoted to chemical analysis. Work once done by technicians is now performed by machines that take up 10 times the room of a person. One of those instruments, a black cube of steel that mechaMnically measures the chemistry of blood samples, shares a cubicle with a backup machine, several computer terminals and a motorized tray that rocks test tubes of inky fluid back and forth.
``The entire lab has been taken up by these machines,'' said Edwards. ``You won't see it done this way anywhere else.''
The laboratory cannot be fixed without a renovation of the entire wing, Edwards said. The rear section of the hospital was built in 1921 and includes utilities dating from the same period. Building and safety laws require that all the utilities be modernized at the time of any new construction, he said.
``We can't even put a vent in here without changing the utilities,'' said Edwards.
Political debate over the expansion plans has ignored the concrete realities of the hospital, said Edwards.
``The county has a real problem,'' he said. ``They have a responsibility to maintain this hospital. But they can't seem to stop it from falling apart.''
Photo: (1--color in SIMI only) Two employees squeeze int o jobs at Ventura County's hospital laboratory, where 60 workers share 4,800 square feet with equipment.
(2) Dr. Samuel Edwards, Ventura County Medical Center administrator, points to a shortage of lab space.
David Richard Crane/Daily News
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Oct 27, 1996|
|Previous Article:||PARENTS BRING BRIDGE PLAN TO FRUITION : MOORPARK TO ERECT CROSSING OVER ARROYO AFTER STUDENT'S DEATH.|
|Next Article:||DRIVE-THROUGH CLINIC A SHOT IN THE ARM TO FLU PROJECT.|