Retirement villages team up with Hill Laboratories to fast track COVID-19 testing.
Hill Laboratories have partnered with Summerset, Oceania Healthcare and Ryman Healthcare, and are in discussions with other providers, to introduce fast-track COVID-19 salvia tests of asymptomatic staff at their retirement villages.
These Aged Care providers have contracted Hill Labs to carry out saliva tests to offer extra reassurance as a result of recurring emergence of community cases of COVID-19 in various parts of the country.
Ryman Healthcare Chief Operations Officer Cheyne Chalmers said the Hill Labs tests were an exciting new development in the campaign to keep Ryman’s villages free of COVID-19.
‘Being able to test staff quickly, accurately and efficiently is an important extra safeguard for us.
We want to do everything we can to keep the virus out. Being able to test ourselves with the help of the Hill Laboratories team means we can take the pressure off the public system and speed up the testing process which is reassuring for both our residents, and our team.’
During the first lockdown in March/April 2020, Summerset approached the Hill Labs team for assistance with testing because testing resources were prioritised for people with symptoms and Summerset wanted the extra security of voluntary surveillance testing of staff. While no testing was performed at the start of the lockdown, Summerset has gone on to use nasal swab and saliva testing for staff in at-risk locations.
The Hill Labs team worked with the three retirement village operators to define policies and processes around the surveillance testing.
In mid-2020 the Yale School of Public Health published their ‘SalivaDirect’ method. Hill Laboratories’ operational and technical lead for Molecular Biological testing, Dr Eilidh Mowat, picked up the publication and later said ‘it was a no-brainer’. Within weeks Dr Mowat had established and validated a version of the method within Hill laboratories, just as the US FDA was granting this methodology Emergency Use Authorisation on August 15 2020. This improved method eventually became the preferred service among the Aged Care and Retirement Village providers.
Hill Laboratories’ Chief Executive Officer Dr Jonathan Hill said ‘while roughly equivalent in terms of accuracy and sensitivity to the current nasopharyngeal swab PCR methodology being widely employed in New Zealand, the primary advantage of the SalivaDirect methodology is that it tests saliva, rather than nasopharyngeal swabs,’ Dr Hill says.
‘So, sample collection is non-invasive and can be performed by the donor alone, by simply depositing their saliva into a pottle, without the requirement for trained sample collection personnel wearing PPE.’
The SalivaDirect test is also simpler - using non-proprietary reagents, so the cost is considerably lower, making it more feasible to be used by companies for the purpose of proactive screening of asymptomatic people in high-risk environments.
Hill Laboratories is now exploring opportunities to deliver a similar service into other high-risk industries, potentially as part of business continuity planning within those businesses.