Cleveland Clinic to add jobs, business with reference lab expansion

The Cleveland Clinic expects to break ground this summer on an expansion of its reference lab — a laboratory that does tests for other hospitals and medical facilities that can’t or don’t want to do the tests themselves. The lab could create 500 jobs in five years in Cleveland, and bring in national and international business.

Updated Monday, March 2, 2009.

The Cleveland Clinic expects to break ground this summer on an expansion of its reference lab — a laboratory that does tests for other hospitals and medical facilities that can’t or don’t want to do the tests themselves.

The 100,000-square-foot building on the Clinic’s main campus, estimated to cost $25 million, promises to add up to 500 jobs to the city’s economy within five years. It also promises to bring in more business from across the country — and from around the world — to help pay for investments in better and faster tests for Clinic patients.

The Clinic is working with architects and engineers to design the lab as “the most efficient, modern, up-to-date laboratory that can house some of the most exciting testing, but do it in a way that we can have very rapid turnaround times,” said Dr. Kandice Kottke-Marchant, chair of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Institute at the Clinic. 

The Clinic’s existing reference lab employs nearly 800 people, including 59 pathologists — the doctors who diagnoses diseases by studying cells and tissue.

“We already have an amazing facility of laboratory testing available here,” said Kottke-Marchant, who also is president of the reference lab. “To give you a sense of the size of our laboratory, we are the 15th largest hospital laboratory in the U.S., doing 10 million tests per year.”

Doctors can order from a menu of more than 2,000 distinct tests. “We are a very large laboratory,” she said.

That lab has grown slowly during its 30 years, mostly by doing tests for its own hospitals. Testing done for other hospitals “is less than 10 percent of our total volume,” Kottke-Marchant said. “So we would be looking at expanding that percentage of testing, a certain percentage every year.

Dino Kasdagly, who came to the Clinic about five months ago as chief executive of the reference lab, wants to see the Clinic get a bigger piece of the market for “esoteric tests.” These are tests that are too complicated or too expensive for most hospitals to do.

“To give you perspective on the market, the esoteric space grows between 10 and 15 percent a year,” said Kasdagly, the former chief operating officer at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “You can get a feel for why it’s important for the Clinic to more broadly participate.”

The market for esoteric tests — like molecular and DNA testing — is growing fast because of medical discoveries and technology advances, Kottke-Marchant said. “Medical knowledge now doubles practically every couple of years.”

For instance, researchers find new ways to identify or diagnose diseases like cancer every two or three months. “Some of the small hospitals can’t bring these cutting-edge tests onto their clinical platforms fast enough,” she said.

But even the Clinic with its massive patient volume and bed number wouldn’t be able to make good use of an expanded reference lab and its expensive testing technologies all by itself, Kottke-Marchant said.

“We want to make an investment to better care for patients … and while doing that, we can offset many of the fixed costs and help reduce the cost of medicine by taking those [tests] to other hospitals,” Kasdagly said. 

Kasdagly, who was responsible for information management at Mayo’s department of laboratory medicine and pathology, came to the Clinic in large part to build the information technology infrastructure to enable the reference lab expansion. That infrastructure, which will include a 24-hour-a-day call center, would enable pathologists to order tests, interpret results, and to issue reports and help clients understand those reports, he said.

Eventually, it also would enable pathologists to look at digital images of pathology specimens transmitted from half way around the world, Kottke-Marchant said.

New hires for the expanded laboratory will include medical laboratory technicians, pathologists and clinicians, Kasdagly said. “We’ll be bringing in computer scientists, electrical engineers and customer service people,” even sales people, account managers and finance professionals, he said.

Kottke-Marchant already is helping to prepare Northeast Ohio’s workforce to take the medical technology jobs created at the expanded lab. She helped start a medical technology program at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland two years ago.

She’s working with Lakeland, Cuyahoga Community College and several other colleges to start programs to educate histotechnicians (the people who cut and stain tissue for testing), cytotechnologists (people who analyze cells for abnormalities) and pathology assistants.

“It’s exciting to take something that is a small reference lab with the brand of the Cleveland Clinic and make it a national laboratory,” Kasdagly said.