For communicable diseases, the first step in the line of defence is testing. The quick development and distribution of a test helps with early identification, accelerated treatment, and immediate isolation to prevent the spread. For the COVID-19 pandemic, this was no different – and Shared Hospital Laboratory (SHL) played an instrumental role in this by conducting and processing COVID-19 tests – one million COVID-19 tests to be exact.

COVID-19 testing has been at the forefront of the pandemic – being one of the most commonly spoken about topics in everyday media and life. As one of the first labs in Ontario to receive a COVID-19 testing license, the work for SHL began on March 13, when they conducted their first COVID-19 test.

“In March 2020, we were performing testing in batches of 24 – today we run batches of 384 and can perform 15,000 tests per day through the introduction of robotics and constant refining of the testing process to ensure both efficiency and quality,” notes Dr. Christie Vermeiren, Clinical Microbiologist, Shared Hospital Lab. “We started with just 39 staff and at last check have 187 employees. Our staff are incredibly dedicated – facing new challenges everyday, sometimes every hour – all without missing a beat.”

SHL was founded in 1997 as a publicly-funded standalone corporation providing Microbiology Lab services to North York General Hospital and Scarborough Hospital (TSH). Over the years, Michael Garron hospital joined, and in November 2019 Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre joined to form a four-hospital partnership that continues to deliver high quality microbiology testing.

“With an increase in COVID-19 cases in the community, the Ministry of Health and Ontario Health played a vital role in supporting us,” notes Dr. Dhun Noria, Chair of Shared Hospital Laboratory and original founding member. “They provided us with additional funding to grow and support the capacity we are now achieving, which is helping all Ontarians.”

“The team at Shared Hospital Laboratory have shown incredible resilience,” shares Dr. Kevin Katz, Medical Director of Shared Hospital Laboratory. “Working tirelessly to conduct these tests and grow the labs capacity, the staff showed their commitment to doing their part to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”

SHL provides testing for the four partner health networks, their assessment centres and their associated long-term care and retirement homes. Throughout the pandemic, SHL has also provided testing for Public Health Ontario Laboratory and many other hospitals, and is now testing pharmacy specimens for Ontario Health.