Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory

An eye on public health

Officially opening in May 2010, the new Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory is the result of more than seven years of planning. A move from the old facility, one of the oldest public health labs in Canada that was built in 1958, will improve the laboratory’s public health services in water testing, bacteriology, virology, immunoserology and molecular diagnosis.

“The main difference between the new and old facility is safety, including a sophisticated air system. We are reorganized within and we have lowered the risks of problems. In the new lab, we are doing work on tuberculosis samples because of that reorganization,” said Medical Director Greg Horsman.

The improved facility, at a $55 million construction cost, will meet the province’s needs for testing capabilities and an improved stance for future public health outbreaks like the SARS and H1N1 pandemics. The facility is better served for improved testing and monitoring of illnesses, communicable diseases and influenza, including pandemics.

Mandated to “identify, respond and prevent illness and disease in the province,” the Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory offers an array of diverse services.
“We are located in an innovation and research place so I think most public health labs are a service lab first. If you look at our microbiology samples coming in, it serves a dual purpose in providing physicians with results that aide in the diagnosis and treatment of patients and the second is providing population health surveillance of infectious diseases, detection of outbreaks and timely public health intervention,” added Horsman.

The new laboratory, about one-third of additional size of the former facility, sees a real difference in its atmosphere, with its design including more windows and more open space for more flexibility. According to Horsman, it’s easier to set up equipment and, overall, align the business better for the largest branch of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health.

“With the new lab, we apply lean principles to maximize how the new space has been organized. It is an ongoing process where we try to move our equipment into a core lab concept. We get samples closer to the analyzers they will be used on, so that means less touching and less moving of samples through the lab,” added Horsman. “It is applied principles that are recognized in improving the efficiency of any laboratory. When you get a new lab, it is designed around these concepts, so it is easier to do so we can take advantage of those principles.”

Information from those laboratory studies is then moved on to Medical Health Officers, adding to the philosophy that public health labs should always be looking for new things.

“It goes back to SARS where public health labs should be a system to pick up new passages. There is expectation from the public that these public health labs are monitoring these situations and thinking it is more than just having a new lab and up-to-date equipment, but also building networks,” said Horsman. “That is where we get our value added, some of which goes back to the microbiology tests we do and diseases that spread in the community and what we can do to take some of the organisms like e-coli and salmonella and DNA fingerprinting to sooner tell of outbreaks.”

The Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory builds on these systems, developed around pandemics, in developing the tools to communicate and build networks throughout Canada.

“Our infrastructure is more than just the new lab. It is building relationships and working with our public health labs through networks. With robust technologies and networks in place, we are ready to look for new passages and that’s where we have done some of our applied research for better methods. Our goal of protecting the health of the public remains the same,” concluded Horsman.