Spring is the time of year that health care workers celebrate our various specialties. United Clinical Laboratories’ 160 employees celebrated Medical Laboratory Professionals Week in April, however it was bittersweet. It was United Clinical Laboratories’ last big hurrah before the hostile dissolution by our competing hospital co-owners.
United Clinical Laboratories (UCL) was formed in 1986 as a collaborative effort to better serve the Dubuque area. By sharing costs and resources, the founders, Finley, Mercy and Medical Services Laboratory sought to bring a higher quality of laboratory testing to the Dubuque community than either hospital could afford to do alone and saved money with this shared testing concept.
The collaboration allowed the hospitals to eliminate the duplicate testing mandated by accrediting agencies since each hospital could now back each other up, and both hospitals shared Medical Services Laboratory’s specialty testing. The UCL collaboration also allowed the hospitals to share blood inventories, important when facing emergencies, as well as staff, which has become increasingly important with the shortage of Clinical Laboratory Scientists.
UCL clients have expanded and include physician groups, individual providers, surrounding area hospitals and clinics, veterinary clinics, nursing homes, dental offices and a myriad of other health care providers in the area. Clients, with the proper HIPAA clearance, also have access to all UCL results, so a patient who was seen in a nursing home would have their test results available to whichever hospital the patient chooses on admission, and duplicate testing is not needed — secure patient records shared with the appropriate providers long before required by today’s health care laws.
In addition, UCL also provides reports to clients listing the infectious diseases that are being found in the community and the antibiotics that are working against them.
Through the years, UCL has consistently maintained its high standards, innovative and progressive testing menu, and brought testing to Dubuque that otherwise would have been sent out. In today’s health care world, fast test reporting means faster treatment and better outcomes for patients and hospitals.
Sadly, even with the UCL success, the hospital partners are making decisions to end UCL. A shared community laboratory does not conform to either hospital’s corporate system. No hospital in either Trinity Health (Detroit, Mich.) or UnityPoint (West Des Moines) shares a laboratory like UCL with an out-of-network entity.
The hospitals’ reasoning for the change uses the cost per test discrepancy between UCL’s shared model and other system hospitals’ in-house laboratory testing. However the system hospitals pricing does not include the infrastructure needed to perform and report these test results (like IT) so do not reflect a true test cost. Since all partners are represented on the UCL board of directors and are involved in all the decisions made to run a successful laboratory, it’s surprising there was no effort by hospital partners to discuss perceived cost inequalities. Unfortunately, the decisions were already made. Upper hospital management now work for the corporations, so the systems’ interests are the priority.
As we move through the COVID-19 pandemic with the Dubuque community coming together to try to understand where and how this virus is spreading, it again becomes apparent as to why UCL is a benefit to the community. Yet, the community loses to the interests of larger corporations.
Health care is a costly business, and decisions are made for the whole of the system, not necessarily what is better for each individual community. Communities like Dubuque are just part of the collateral damage to ensure the systems survive. Regrettably, it’s the world we live in.