Michigan Laboratory Plays Vital Role in COVID-19 Response


July 17, 2020



Michigan Laboratory Plays Vital Role in COVID-19 Response – Headline News – Trinity Health

By: Andrea Gresko

Trinity Health colleagues at the Frances Warde Medical Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan continue to process thousands of COVID-19 tests for physician practices and 48 Trinity Health facilities in 22 states, as well as for other regional and national health systems.

Without their work, treatment for thousands of patients across the country could be delayed because COVID-19 testing is still not available as broadly as the nation needs.


The lab opened in 1985 as a result of a partnership between five Southeast Michigan hospitals to consolidate laboratory testing. It is named after Sister Mary Frances Xavier Warde from the Sisters of Mercy, one of Trinity Health’s founding congregations.

Warde is a national reference lab specializing in “esoteric” testing. This means it receives highly complex specimens from various locations and tests them in batches. If these typically rare specimens remained at a hospital or independent laboratory, it would cost more to test them because they generally arrive in lower volumes.

Reference labs with extensive testing “menus” like Warde’s account for less than 10 percent of all medical laboratories in the nation. Warde performs nearly 800 different tests across five different categories: Immunology, Toxicology, Molecular & Virology, Immunochemistry, and Flow Cytometry.

In 1997, Warde developed a “co-tenancy” ownership model to reduce the cost of reference lab testing in the region. Consolidating services and eliminating redundant instruments resulted in greater economy and efficiency. The lab was able to invest in more technology and resources to process tests at a larger volume. It’s testing menu and the facility grew.

Technology and express shipping have made it possible to receive and test specimens from as far away as California and the East Coast. Warde’s staff of 140 colleagues work around-the-clock to ensure an average of 8,000 tests are processed each day. While a significant portion today are for COVID-19, tests are run for anything from lead poisoning to kidney stone analysis to the Zika virus.

“During my first ‘tour of duty’ with Mercy Health Services and Trinity Health in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was very fortunate to be part of the leadership team who, with our excellent pathologist partners, supported the transition and expansion of Warde Medical Laboratory. We worked to a co-op organizational structure that provides high-quality services to Trinity Health facilities and many external hospital partners, expanding on an already outstanding reference laboratory, ” said Mike Slubowski, president and chief executive officer, Trinity Health.

Pandemic Disruption

Life for Warde colleagues was significantly altered after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic in mid-March 2020. Within a few short weeks, the volume of testing fell nearly 60 percent because hospital procedures and physician office visits were cancelled.

Chadi Filfili, director of operations at the lab, and his fellow leaders immediately focused on how they could provide support in the fight against COVID-19. They worked with experts from Trinity Health’s Incident Command, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, commercial technology developers and state health departments to obtain the necessary technology, tests and chemical reagents (many of the latter need to be obtained through international supply chains).

Warde launched its SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of COVID-19) molecular test on March 23. Before that, many patients in southeast Michigan waited 7-10 days for their COVID-19 test results. The lab can process nearly 1,500 tests per day and most within 24 hours. More than 100,000 results have been provided to date.

“I am humbled by the teamwork here,” said Filfili. “Keep in mind, our non-COVID work had to continue, such as performing tests on newborns who can’t leave hospitals without good lab results. We had to keep everything going. People here cross-trained jobs to make sure that the overall work can continue should someone get sick or need to care for a loved one.”

Warde colleagues embrace innovation, quality and safety as tenets, striving to comply with and surpass the evolving guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Since COVID-19, we routinely converse about how to maintain operations while keeping colleagues safe,” said Filfili. “We critically analyze our processes and perform rigorous disinfection routines. With the help and leadership of our medical director, William Finn, M.D., we improved our operational agility and updated how we prioritize types of medical testing.”

Trinity Health’s “Emergence”

Thousands of people across the country had to delay non-urgent care including outpatient procedures and surgeries during the first few months of the pandemic. Now that Trinity Health and other systems are resuming these services, Warde colleagues play a vital role in ensuring patients are healthy enough for their procedures. Confirming patients are “all clear” in advance of procedures helps prevents COVID-19 from being spread inside the ministries, which also maintains the safety of other patients and fellow colleagues. 

“The growth of Warde Lab has been admirable, and the value of its services has always been amazing,” said Slubowski. “I was so pleased to learn they agreed to assume responsibility for both molecular testing and antibody testing for COVID-19. In fact, I was one of the test patients for the antibody test! I am grateful for all that Warde Lab is doing to support our healing ministry and all of our partners during this all-important time of laboratory service endeavors.”

Photos above right: (top) More than 140 colleagues work at the Frances Warde Medical Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (bottom) Members of the Warde Medical Lab Virology Unit.