If you were a global-warming skeptic, maybe our June heatwave convinced you that there is really something to this warming thing. As you likely remember, we had eight straight days of triple digit temperatures which peaked on June 22 with a high of 108 degrees in Sacramento, breaking the previous record set in 1981 by just one degree. The Sacramento Bee even published a urine color chart to help citizens gauge their level of hydration (1) which made me think that a benefit of the heatwave may be increased interest in careers in urinalysis and clinical chemistry – perhaps applications will be up for our CLS program?! The Bee also ran an article “Why Californians Don't Have to Worry About Their Air Conditioning Conking” which explained that our power supply is robust and secure thanks to billions spent on new power plants, and lots of new solar and wind farms (2).

But despite the optimism re: adequate hydration and cooling, the extreme heat did cause some significant air conditioning and power issues throughout our area, which impacted us right here in the clinical laboratory. I am so very proud of how our team came together to address these unusual challenges – we have procedures and drills for disasters, and this was a small but very real disaster experience. In this month's blog, I wanted to highlight these successes so that you too can share in the pride we have for your contributions and/or those of our colleagues and teammates.

  • On June 21 at 4:30 pm, I was notified that the air conditioning wasn't working at the Specialty Testing Center. Temperatures were over 91 degrees, and hoods and analyzers were not working optimally – those of you who work there probably remember this well! As we all know, temperature control is an important aspect to ensuring quality in laboratory testing, and our wonderful staff quickly responded — patient specimens were held at the Pavilion lab, reagents were moved to cooler areas, and nursing units were informed that lab services from the building were on hold. Temporary evaporative coolers were brought in, and just 5 hours later at 9:15 pm, the building had cooled to ~81 degrees, and all Chem2/Tox and Micro staff were back on-site. Clinical CAO Tina Cox shared that “Staff did an amazing job this afternoon and this evening. It was a coordinated team effort and everyone was smiling even in the heat, and even more so when they came back in tonight. Thanks to Sabrina for doing all the initial assessments and getting HVAC here so quickly and to JJ for coordinating on the Pavilion side.”
  • The next day, June 22, the hottest day of the heatwave, our laboratory was notified at 9:34 pm that a local community hospital suffered a catastrophic power loss. The County of Sacramento asked if we could assist with emergency testing by loaning one handheld chemistry analyzers for emergency testing. Section director Dr. Nam Tran therefore approved readying at least one epoc® handheld point-of-care chemistry analyzer and at least 50 test cards for deployment per our emergency response plan (previously known as the “Ebola plan”). The point-of-care team also prepared to lend two additional devices and 200 test cards, if needed, and made plans to escalate notification if our services were fully activated. At 10:07 pm, the lab was notified to be on standby for two hours since the community hospital was hopeful that power would be restored. Dr. Tran requested the team continue to prepare, assuming that deployment would be required. This included employing “just-in-time” training (per Ebola plan) along with our one page laminated quick start guide originally made for this type of an emergency. Less than three hours after the first notification, at 1210 am on June 23, Dr. Tran was notified that power was restored at the affected hospital and the laboratory could stand down. As Dr. Tran shared “Although we did not deploy the epoc’s®, I thought this was a fantastic exercise for our staff and stress tested for elements of our three year old 'Ebola plan'. This event also highlights how the UCDMC Laboratory serves as a critical resource for the region for both emergency centralized and point-of-care testing!”

Studies have shown that inter-group conflict and aggression rise with high temperatures (3). And believe it or not, 27% of the population are actually “summer haters” who are and more fearful and angry when temperatures are higher (3). But clearly this isn't the case with us – when temperatures rise and a crisis occurs, we clearly come together as a team and perform better than ever with a positive and can-do attitude – the signs of true professionals.

Lastly, as recent events demonstrated, our community looks to us for support in times of need – this is what a tertiary/quaternary care academic health center is all about. But our role is not just to support – we innovate so that we improve preparedness for emergencies, and so that others are prepared, too. We have a long and creative tradition related to point-of-care testing in disasters, pioneered here by professor emeritus Gerald Kost MD PhD. In his 2015 book A Global Look at Point of Care Testing, Dr. Kost shares his decades of experience and outlines strategies for disasters, emergencies and public health resilience (4). This past year, Dr. Kost was honored with UC Davis' Dickson Emeritus Professor Award and he will be giving us a grand rounds on September 18 to share his on-going work – I hope you'll mark your calendar to join us. In addition, we continue to groom the next generation of innovators right here, including an amazing group of students who participate in Dr. Nam Tran's biodesign course for undergraduate biomedical engineers. Their projects, mentored by Dr. Tran, explore solutions to important problems in laboratory medicine. For the last few years, we have enjoyed having Dr. Tran's students share their projects during grand rounds in June as their class concludes; it is always one of our most popular grand rounds each year. This year's presentations took place during the heatwave and it was very timely to hear that Dr. Tran's students have been working on a specimen transport system that provides better and more uniform temperature control to improve the integrity of the specimens moved from the field during disasters, thus improving the quality of subsequent lab testing.

We have a lot to be proud of – just as molecules heat up, become more active and rise to the top when temperatures rise, we too are stimulated by challenges, increase our creative activity, and rise to the top as well. Congrats to our outstanding co-workers, colleagues, and students who support our community in times of need and in the work that they do all year long. I hope everyone stays cool, calm, and collected no matter what the temperature, and enjoys a wonderful summer!

1) http://www.sacbee.com/news/weather/article157549099.html
2) http://www.sacbee.com/news/weather/article157613029.html
3) https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/08/29/can-weather-affect-your-mood/
4) https://www.aacc.org/publications/cln/cln-stat/2015/march/5/a-global-look-at-point-of-care-testing