July 16, 2020
“We’ve been very busy… even before there were any tests if you can remember that…”
At Maine Molecular Quality Controls Inc. in Saco, the team designs and markets molecular controls for use in inherited disease testing, infectious disease testing, and detection, oncology and pharmacogenetics. The team at MMQCI were some of the “first responders” to the pandemic. Because their work is hands on, working remotely was not an option for them as they witnessed businesses start closing or sending people to work from home to mitigate the risk of spread. President Joan Gordon recalled the early months of the coronavirus and its steadfastness being surreal. “Everything happened so fast. One day we were all watching the news and then here it was.” Her team had many questions, but being connected to health care is part of the reason no one hesitated.
The team had always been caring for sick people from a distance. Many employees at Maine Molecular have been in lab medicine for a long time, and a large group has backgrounds in infectious disease. Often, the team could anticipate next steps based on what they were hearing in the industry, and would prepare for updates and changes. They were busy from the start, even before testing was available, “if you can remember that,” Joan said. When patients started presenting symptoms at the beginning, oftentimes testing was done with respiratory panels. The main responsibility of the team at Maine Molecular is creating controls for lab testing.
When manufacturers create a new lab test, controls need to be created for the test. As the first COVID-19 tests rapidly emerged, the team at Maine Molecular met their biggest challenge yet: tight deadlines. However, Joan credits this challenge as her team's biggest accomplishment. “Without a doubt what has been and continues to be the teams’ biggest accomplishment is being able to provide the controls required for COVID-19 testing which is so desperately needed to control the pandemic. And, it literally saves lives. The urgency and tight deadlines made it seem impossible to achieve but the team did so without complaint. They continue to keep our inventory replenished at an amazing rate so the labs can keep testing. I couldn’t ask for a better team.” The Maine Molecular team has 4 controls currently in use and is perfecting a 5th that is more complex.
One of the biggest obstacles during the pandemic has been interviewing potential new employees to meet the staffing demands. At the beginning of March, Joan began seeking additional staff. In-person interviews posed risk for herself and her team, so video interviews were held and then the interviewee would have their temperature checked, be masked and gloved, and would do a walk-through with one employee. All new hires are tested for COVID19 before starting work at MMQCI. Joan has also offered testing for any of her employees at any time.
As things continue to change, Joan is most looking forward to when the vaccine is approved saying, “This virus isn’t going to go away, and even with the vaccine we will still be using precautions because the results won’t be instantaneous.” Joan reiterated that not one person on the team ever said ‘we can’t do this’ and they will continue working diligently and with pride.