Catching a flight: Team effort ensures COVID-19 specimens get to Mayo Clinic

Vermont Business Magazine Getting COVID-19 test results as fast as possible ensures providers can make timely important clinical decisions for their patients – and patients can swiftly take steps for their health and the protection of people around them. When the daily commercial flights that transported COVID-19 specimens from Burlington to Mayo Clinic Laboratories in Rochester, MN, started to be cancelled, a group of fast-acting health care administrators and business leaders sprang into action to find a solution.

In a demonstration of true community collaboration, members of the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center and Health Network, Vermont Department of Public Safety, Green Mountain Messenger, JV Air LLC, and Heritage Flight were able to secure a private jet to make the delivery. The flight left Burlington March 31 around 6:30 a.m. ET and landed in Rochester, Minn. at about 9:30 a.m. ET.

Left to right: Matt Kozlowski, president, Green Mountain Messenger, who delivered the sample boxes from the UVM Medical Center to the Heritage Flight hangar at Burlington Airport; Martii Matheson and Kirk Walters, co-owners, JV Air LLC. (Courtesy photo)

The chain of communication began with Lynn Bryan, manager of laboratory business systems and client services for UVM Health Network Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. When she learned that flight cancellations were delaying results by as much as 24 hours, she alerted Pathology and Laboratory Medicine leadership, who contacted Al Gobeille, UVM Health Network executive vice president for operations.

He reached out to Mike Schirling, commissioner of public safety for the State of Vermont, who made the critical connection to JV Air LLC, a company whose plane is hangared at Heritage Flight and is involved in a variety of charitable endeavors for such organizations as Angel Flight Northeast, Patient Airlift Service, and now, the hospital laboratories within NECLA (North Eastern Community Lab Alliance) that serve all of Vermont.

“Within 45 minutes, we had a private jet to take specimens from across Vermont from BTV to Mayo,” says Bryan. “This is an amazing collaboration between the State of Vermont, JV Air, Green Mountain Messenger, Mayo and UVM Medical Center.”

At Governor Scott's press briefing April 15, Scott and JV Air partner Martii Matheson also thanked Angelo, Remo and Jim Pizzagalli, who helped make the flight possible.

Turnaround for COVID-19 tests has been a challenge nationally, says Debra Leonard, M.D., Ph.D., chief of pathology and laboratory medicine for the UVM Health Network and chair of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

“This allows us to reliably send up to 600 tests per day to Mayo Clinic Laboratories,” which is two to three times as many tests as Vermont had been previously sending," explains Leonard. “Mayo has been providing results to our hospitals and providers, as well as the Vermont Department of Health, on the same day as they have received our specimens,” and this has translated into better clinical care for patients.

Source: April 2, 2020 The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine