HOW ASCLS-HAWAII MOBILIZED TO SAVE IT
Sheri Gon, MPH, MLS(ASCP)CM; Claire Muranaka, MLT(ASCP), ASCLS-Hawaii President; and Kristen Croom, MLS(ASCP)CMMB(ASCP), ASCLS Region X Director
|The University of Hawaii at Manoa Budget Committee initially recommended eliminating the Medical Technology Program to save money during the COVID-19 induced recession.|
A distinguishing feature of ASCLS is that it serves as a grassroots professional organization. ASCLS provides a network of professionals across the nation to advocate for the medical laboratory profession. When an educational program was threatened with closure, the Hawaii ASCLS constituent society acted quickly to address the situation.
COVID-19 was declared an outbreak by the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 30, 2020. By March 11, WHO called it a pandemic. On March 24, Hawaii Governor David Ige issued a statewide lockdown to minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The University of Hawaii System planned lockdown of all campuses at this time. All instruction moved to an online format beginning the week after spring break. No in-person instruction was allowed. This proved difficult for courses that require hands-on instruction.
A Budget Committee was formed at University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) and was tasked with review of all academic programs. Small programs, like Medical Technology that graduate 10-15 students per year, would be reviewed and possibly cut by the Budget Committee for the purpose of making UHM financially sound during the COVID-19 induced recession. This process of review by the Budget Committee was announced across all UHM programs.
By August, the Budget Committee submitted its initial recommendations to Provost Michael Bruno. Small programs would cost less to the university if merged into larger departments, restructured to increase enrollment, or eliminated. At the time of the initial report, the Budget Committee’s recommendation was to eliminate the UHM Medical Technology Program on the assumption that the Kapiolani Community College (KCC) MLT program could provide adequate numbers of personnel for the local medical laboratories. This assumption by the Budget Committee needed correction before any actions were to take place.
“We were able to mobilize the team and the letter writing campaign in a matter of days to ensure that our voices and concerns were heard.”
A letter writing campaign was suggested by the ASCLS-HI leadership. The provost and Budget Committee needed to learn more about the different credentials (MLT and MLS) before they could make their recommendations final.
They also needed to learn how much the local medical laboratory industry relied on the UHM Medical Technology Program for staffing. Because of a national workforce shortage of medical laboratory personnel, hiring from the Continental United States is exceedingly difficult.
Once discussion of the threat to UHM Medical Technology was shared with the ASCLS-HI leadership, this news was forwarded to the national ASCLS office, CLMA Aloha Chapter, DOH Division of Laboratory Licensing, local laboratories (DLS, CLH), and alumni of the UHM Medical Technology Program. A letter from the ASCLS-HI leadership was addressed to the Budget Committee and Provost Bruno in time for the Board of Regents meeting on October 1. Letters from employers and alumni were sent to Provost Bruno in support of the Medical Technology Program.
The Board of Regents scheduled meetings with deans to get justification to continue their programs. This was planned for October 1. Dr. Jerris Hedges is the current dean of the medical school. Faculty of the UHM Medical Technology Program provided him information and statistics to share about the program when it was his turn to meet with the Board of Regents and Provost Bruno. It was important to distinguish the difference between MLT and MLS credentials and the amount of education required to achieve the BS-MLS certification.
There are overlaps in these two credentials, but expectations for decision making is much higher with the MLS certified professional. In addition, bachelor’s degrees are not awarded in community colleges. To maintain a steady source of MLSs would require an accredited program that results in BS-MLS graduates. There is no going around the fact that national standards dictate MLT and MLS education and certification.
On October 13, the Budget Committee revised its recommendation to read, “Collaborate with KCC to increase numbers of students who enter the KCC program as well as the number who transfer to UHM to complete the 2+2 program.”
The ASCLS-HI leadership was thankful to have educators on the team to let us know this was occurring. We were able to mobilize the team and the letter writing campaign in a matter of days to ensure that our voices and concerns were heard. We were also thankful that we had lab leaders and bench techs on the team to provide real examples of shortages and how this will affect our ability to care for the patients. We are truly thankful for all our members that voiced their concerns to save the program.
Sheri Gon is an Instructor in the University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Medical Technology in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Claire Muranaka is Senior Medical Lab Tech at Diagnostic Laboratory Services in Aiea, Hawaii.
Kristen Croom is Director of Laboratories, Pathology and Molecular Services, at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.