'Small but Mighty' Saratoga Hospital Surpasses 150,000 COVID-19 Tests

March 16, 2021

‘Small but Mighty’ Saratoga Hospital Surpasses 150,000 COVID-19 Tests

An extraordinary feat for a community hospital

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., March 16, 2021—The report came Sunday, March 8, 2020, and involved just one patient and one practice. Still, it was the news the team at Saratoga Hospital had been dreading: COVID-19 had arrived.

Richard Vandell, administrative director of laboratory services, remembers it as “a watershed event.” He’d come into the hospital that day to take care of other business. Instead, he was called into a meeting to discuss next steps. 

“That was when I realized we’d have to start testing on a large scale,” Vandell said.

Within 24 hours, Saratoga Hospital erected the pop-up tent that would launch the Capital Region’s longest continually operational coronavirus testing program. Over the next 12 months, the hospital would perform more than 150,000 tests, an extraordinary feat for a facility its size. 

“There’s not one person in this community who hasn’t been touched by this program,” said Andrew Serge, director of patient access. “We became the solution for almost anyone who needed a test—families concerned about children and grandparents, local businesses looking to reopen or keep people safe, essential workers, our own patients, doctors and nurses. If you needed a test, we found a way.”

An agile, team effort

Today’s well-oiled testing process reflects a remarkable team effort and the ability to continually adapt to supply shortages, higher infection rates, changing regulations, and even a December blizzard. Through it all, day after day, testing continued.

“The situation was constantly changing, and that fluidity was one of our greatest challenges,” said Nichole Mello, the hospital’s COVID-19 navigator and director of nursing for Saratoga Hospital Medical Group. “We met every day (usually via Webex) to consider what worked well, what we could do better, and what obstacles we still had to overcome.

“We are small but mighty—and agile,” Mello added, “so we made adjustments.”

The hospital nearly tripled capacity by adding drive-up testing on its Wilton and Malta campuses. Employees at these convenient locations performed hundreds of tests each day, alleviating pressure at the hospital and playing a key role in its ability to test every inpatient. 

When elective procedures were halted, employees who previously scheduled imaging and other exams became COVID-19 test schedulers. Information technology staff created an electronic smartboard that could be viewed on any device to track positive test results and help facilitate contact tracing. The hospital launched a COVID-19 hotline, staffed seven days a week.

The original pop-up tent is long gone, replaced by what Mello jokingly refers to as “the beauty at 59D” on Myrtle Street, across from the main hospital campus. The heated structure has two drive-through lanes and two trailers. One is a lab collection and processing site. The other serves as a staff break room, with lockers and fresh supplies of personal protective equipment. During the busiest shift—12 hours during the holiday surge—800 patients were tested.

As word spread, Saratoga Hospital became a preferred testing site for people from throughout Northeastern New York. Locally, the hospital also is the testing partner for long-term care facilities, municipalities, businesses and other organizations, including the New York Racing Association.

“From the beginning, our strategy has been test, test, test,” Vandell said. “That’s how you reduce the spread—by figuring out who’s positive and who’s not. 

“Testing keeps us informed on the status of COVID in the community in real time,” he added. “Having that ear to the ground means we can anticipate the needs of the community instead of just reacting.”


About Saratoga Hospital: Saratoga Hospital is the Saratoga region’s leading healthcare provider and the only acute-care facility in Saratoga County. The hospital’s multispecialty practice, Saratoga Hospital Medical Group, provides care at more than 20 locations, ensuring easy access to programs and services that can have the greatest impact on individual and community health. Saratoga Hospital has maintained Magnet designation for nursing excellence since 2004. The hospital is an affiliate of the Albany Med Health System, which also includes Albany Med, Columbia Memorial Health and Glens Falls Hospital. The region’s largest locally governed health system, it has 1,520 beds, more than 800 physicians and 125 outpatient locations. For more information: www.saratogahospital.org or www.facebook.com/SaratogaHospital.

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Peter Hopper
Director, Marketing and Communications 

16 Mar 2021