Displaying items by tag: saratoga springs
SARATOGA SPRINGS — For more than a decade, Bob Nevins, Melody Squier and Janelle Huggard have been working together to successfully reveal the power of a horse-to-human interaction by providing transformative equine experiences for veterans living with the effects of trauma. Now, the crew has launched a new program called Alliance180, and they’re expanding their support to reach first responders and frontline workers while incorporating science-based research.
For years there have been increasing studies that demonstrate the negative effect that trauma can have on the autonomic nervous system. Because of a new collaboration with Alliance180, Dr. Stephen Porges, a Behavioral Neuroscientist, and his colleagues from Indiana University, the team will be able to successfully document and validate the effectiveness of their equine experience by incorporating and applying evidence of the Polyvagal Theory.
Squier, Alliance180’s Co-Founder, has understood the positive effects horses have on humans, especially those experiencing trauma, for more than 30 years. When she joined forces with Nevins, the two were able to combine their relevant experience and passion for helping others, impacting more than 800 veterans through their past efforts.
The purpose-driven programming of Alliance180 (A180) provides an effective three-day experience through peer-to-peer interaction, private accommodations and classroom training to learn the language of the horse, and a round-pen interaction with the horse as the culminating event. Through the lens of the horse, participants learn to communicate with another powerful but very different species, most often resulting in the emotional response being reawakened, leading to a heightened awareness and offering a renewed perspective and brighter outlook.
Alliance180 plans to launch its first class by the end of August. Activities and classes will take place at the farm belonging to Song Hill Thoroughbreds LLC, and James and Tina Bond and Family. The Bonds said they are happy to be “teaming up” with A180’s experienced staff and are glad to offer access to their horses and facility for the organization’s crucial programming.
For more information on Alliance180, its programming or to become a benefactor, please visit Alliance180.org or call 518-415-0206.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The bugler blows the Call To The Post. If there are no spectators inside the racecourse to hear it, does it make a sound?
In this unusual summer of a most unusual year, the racing season nonetheless got underway as scheduled on July 16, and is slated to run through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7. This year, a lot will be different. Perhaps the biggest is staging the races – or at least the start of the summer meet - without fans in the stands, in compliance with New York State guidelines.
Forty-eight hours prior to the start of the Saratoga meet, NYRA officials and members the city’s Public Safety department staged a joint press conference at the racecourse to discuss additional changes for the start of the summer meet.
“The critical part of this meet is we celebrate racing – but, we celebrate at home. This city cannot have people come to the track and try to watch the races,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
The city requested and NYRA complied with the installation of a temporary “privacy fencing” along exterior boundaries of the race course on Union and Nelson Avenues where it is feared fans may congregate on the sidewalk in close quarters to catch glimpses of the action inside.
“The COVID pandemic has really changed the way we do things – both personally and professionally,” said assistant city Police Chief John Catone, who along with Public Safety Commissioner Dalton, was joined by city Fire Department Battalion Chief Aaron Dyer at the press gathering on July 14.
Catone discussed the importance of having a “fluid safety plan” which can flex as COVID-related restrictions are either increased, or loosened – in the latter case enabling the potentiality of limited spectator attendance or horse owners at some point during the summer.
“We were trying to figure every potential scenario: no fans to partial fans to everybody’s going to be back to normal,” said Catone, adding that discussions between city officials and NYRA officials were initiated in April. “The safety and operation plan is very fluid,” Catone said, “and it’s also going to be based on what we see the next week or so, in terms of people who want to show up and try to catch live racing - and we’re going to deal with it accordingly. We want NYRA to have a successful meet but we also do not want to put ourselves in a position like some other states right now – where they opened too early, they didn’t control the pandemic and their numbers have risen dramatically.”
There will still be “a few” officers assigned to the track and its surroundings, including an officer with a bomb-sniffing dog, and others to deal with potential traffic and pedestrian issues.
YOU WANT TO MAKE A BET
In 2019, $2.1 billion was wagered on 2,000 races at Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont, according to the New York Racing Association. The Saratoga meet delivered the largest return of gambled money - $147 million wagered at the track, and a $705 million all-source handle – meaning many more dollars were spent on Saratoga races at off-track betting sites across the globe, than were at the actual track. Other 2019 betting dollars: Belmont Spring & Summer – 48 days, $525 million all-source handle; Belmont Fall – 37 days, $275 million; Aqueduct – 25 days Fall, $205 million.
This year, on July 13, NYRA announced that the Belmont Park spring/summer meet generated $15,466,198 in average daily handle from all sources, a 42 percent increase over the daily handle during 2019 spring/summer meet. And despite running 23 fewer days than in 2019, all sources handle during the spring/summer meet totaled $386,654,955.
Financially, the city of Saratoga Springs is estimated to suffer a $14 to $16 million revenue loss this calendar year, or a quarter of the city’s $48.7 million budget due to the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic. The city receives no money from wagering, said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. It normally receives funds via an admission tax; those funds go to Saratoga County and are then shared with the city of Saratoga Springs. However, with no fans in the stands as it looks right now, there will be no paid admissions and subsequently no funds to come the city’s way.
NEW RULES FOR JOCKEYS
Two days prior to opening day, NYRA announced a number of updated health and safety protocols that includes closing the track to out-of-town jockeys riding at other racetracks, and requiring all personnel working at Saratoga Race Course in any capacity to produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property. That policy is inclusive of jockeys, valets, NYRA employees, trainers and their staff, outside vendors and credentialed media. A NYRA spokesman Tuesday said that a partnership with Saratoga Hospital was secured for a consistent stream of testing.
The 2020 Saratoga Summer Condition Book currently lists 22 active jockeys and three apprentice riders. This group is to be considered the regular NYRA jockey colony.
Any jockey who rides at a racetrack outside of Saratoga from opening day forward will be considered an out-of-town jockey and will not be permitted at Saratoga Race Course. Out-of-town jockeys not currently riding at another racetrack may be considered for inclusion in the regular NYRA jockey colony provided the jockey does not ride at another racetrack.
In addition to race day safety protocols including standard health screening and temperature check, NYRA says the jockey quarters at Saratoga Race Course have been substantially altered to provide maximum social distancing and reduce density. All areas accessed by jockeys during the regular course of a race day are closed to all outside personnel, including credentialed media, and are cleaned and disinfected throughout the day.
Jockeys and valets are not permitted access to the barn area. In order to work a horse in the morning, the jockey must meet the horse in the paddock and can then proceed to the main track.
Steeplechase jockeys must produce a negative COVID-19 test in order to access the property and will be completely isolated from the regular NYRA jockey colony in a physically separate location. Following that day’s steeplechase race, which will be carded as race one, the steeplechase jockeys will depart the property.
NYRA will follow current Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C.) and New York State Health Department guidance when determining the return of a jockey who has tested positive for COVID-19. This process will include a period of quarantine determined by the severity of the individual case followed by a series of diagnostic tests to rule out ongoing infection.
Following the four-day opening weekend at Saratoga, live racing will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The official First Edition City of Saratoga Springs Monopoly game was released this week, featuring beloved businesses, destinations and attractions that make the area unique.
The Hasbro-produced classic Monopoly game is completely customized to celebrate the City of Saratoga Springs. Created by the Adirondack Trust Company Community Fund (ATCCF), 100% of the proceeds from game sales will go directly to ATCCF’s Lend-A-Hand Grant program. The program puts dollars in the hands of nonprofits that impact the communities in Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties.
Leah Ferrone, Marketing Operations and Outreach manager at ATC, says everyone who has grown up, lived, moved or studied in Saratoga can relate to this customized board.
“The whole board is completely customized, from the tokens to different real estate properties and the photographs that are on the board. But I think one of the things that make it so special and unique are the ‘Community Chest’ and ‘Chance’ cards. For our board, we reference something unique in Saratoga on every card,” Ferrone said. “Whether you come to Saratoga for what you love—the track, SPAC, the healing aspects of the waters—there is something in those cards that everyone can relate to that will bring up a really fun memory of Saratoga.”
Each board costs $50 and references Congress Park, the Saratoga County Fair, being a Blue Streak, and even attending Skidmore. This isn’t the first time Saratoga was featured on a Monopoly game board. In the early 1980’s, a custom game board called Saratogaopoly was created. Photos reveal the collectors box saying “a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Saratoga Hospital Foundation.”
The creation of the new game board started in February and was created with help from the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Cooley Group in Rochester, NY.
“When we heard about all of the success the game could have, we knew it would be a lot of work, but it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ferrone said.
ATCCF Chair Brian Straughter said in a release: “at a time when local nonprofits need our support more than ever, we are thrilled to introduce the City of Saratoga Springs Monopoly game as a way to not only create memories with your loved ones, but to also give back to the community. This game has been made possible through the support of local community members, many of which are featured on the game board. We are proud to share this project with all Saratoga Springs enthusiasts.”
There is only a limited quantity of games, and sales will last until they are sold out. However, Ferrone said they have the ability to order a second edition depending on demand.
“We wanted to announce the game though a big launch party, but the world had different plans. While it’s not how we envisioned it, this is a really special time to be putting this out there. The game celebrates the community and brings us together…this is something that will bring joy to people,” Ferrone said.
The local retailers who will be selling the game includes: Allerdice Building Supplies, Cudney’s Cleaners, Dark Horse Mercantile, Hampton Inn & Suites Saratoga Springs, Homewood Suites by Hilton Saratoga Springs, Impressions of Saratoga, Northshire Bookstore Saratoga Springs, PJ’s BBQSA, Putnam Market, Saratoga Hospital, Spoken Boutique, and all Adirondack Trust Company convenient branch locations. Games also may be purchased online at SaratogaSpringsMonopoly.org.
ATCCF’s website is ATCCF.org and is located at 31 Church Street. They can be reached at 518-584-5844.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Henry Street welcomed outdoor tables filled with customers this past weekend as local eateries in Saratoga have expanded their outdoor dining to the streets.
Participating restaurants such as Scallions, Henry Street Taproom, Flatbread Social, Paint and Sip and other businesses can now offer outdoor seating on the street with concrete safety barriers between customers and traffic. The concrete blocks extend down Henry Street and Short Alley between Lake Avenue and Caroline Street. Eateries saw full capacity after beginning the street dining this past Friday.
“It was really exciting to see so many people enjoying it,” said Erin Maciel, Complete Streets Advisory Board committee member. “This is the step we need to take as a city. I think by working with the business association, we have really seen how streets can be flexible. That’s really what we are promoting with Complete Streets. Streets are public space and this is a great example of how streets can keep us safe as a community, allow for social distancing and allow for people to be outdoors and support businesses.”
The Complete Streets Advisory Board was established via the Complete Streets Policy as adopted by City Council on May 1, 2012.
“Having that outdoor space is pivotal. People do feel safer outdoors and that’s something that we have to acknowledge and support. We want them to come out and feel safe downtown. The outdoor step is essential and necessary to save our local economy,” said Catherine Hover, owner of Paint and Sip.
Street dining helps to increase revenue for participating businesses and allows for COVID-19 safe dining. To help this initiative, Maciel said she’s happy the city passed a temporary outdoor seating that allows businesses to expand to city property, which streets are included in.
“With the ordinance that is out there right now, each business needs to provide insurance that allows them to go out onto sidewalks and into the street. That’s our next step throughout our community…to expand outdoor dining.”
The Saratoga City Council approved the permit system late June, which allows city restaurants to expand their outdoor seating to sidewalks and other public locations. The permits have no cost.
Henry Street isn’t the only roadway to see outdoor dining. Maciel said she has seen businesses on other streets joining together to take over parking lanes or shift around the cross section of the roadway to accommodate seating in the street. Hover, also owner of Palette Café, expanded her outdoor seating to the sidewalks on Broadway.
“Right now, I think we are seeing a silver lining and I think that’s something we need to talk about…that we can accommodate and support local businesses with new ideas and thinking creatively,” Maciel said. “We on the Complete Streets Board and design professionals here in the city just want to support businesses to keep our city what it is and make sure everyone can weather this storm.”
Maciel is also a Senior Landscape Architect at CLA SITE Landscape Architecture, Engineering & Planning, P.C, which is located at 58 Church St in Saratoga Springs.
Hover added: “We have to keep moving forward and we have to have hope. We have to evolve and we have to adapt. We need people to be vocal and speak up. There is real change coming and it’s exciting.”
Dining on the road will continue through Labor Day, at which point the Complete Streets Advisory Board and city officials will re-evaluate to determine if the ordinance and permits should be extended.
“It really depends on COVID and how safe we can be indoors,” Maciel said. “We have a climate here that does not allow us to be outdoors year-round. Talking with everyone, why can’t we have heaters out there? You look at a lot of cities around the globe and I think there are ways to make accommodations for folks to enjoy it longer. Once we go into winter and if we are not able to be indoors safely, that’s going to be a huge hit for our small businesses. We really need to expand it as far as it can.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga and the greater Capital Region entered Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan on July 1.
The industries specifically tagged to reopen in phase four include: professional sports competitions - with no fans, higher education, both indoor and outdoor low-risk arts and entertainment, and media production.
Regionally, the rate of those testing positive for the COVID-19 virus has remained low and statewide has fallen dramatically compared to where they were earlier this year.
This week, the number of positive test results ranged from 0.7% to 1.5% across the state, with the Capital Region measuring at 1.0% - or 1 of every 100 people who had been tested, testing positive for COVID-19.
New York State has conducted more diagnostic tests per capita than any nation on earth, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week.
“New York State is doing great, the numbers are good, the numbers are solid,” Cuomo said regarding New York’s infection rates, hospitalizations and the number of deaths recently caused by the virus. “But I feel there are storm clouds on the horizon,” he warned.
Thirty-five states have seen an increase in infection rates this week.
“Now they’re all starting to say: we better take this seriously. We better start wearing masks. They’re going backwards on their reopening plan – which is just what we talked about happening,” Cuomo said. “If you reopen too fast, you’re going to have to close. And that’s the worst situation, the worst for the economy and you’re going to lose more people in the meantime.”
The formula the governor described at his July 1 press briefing includes: testing, tracing, social distancing and wearing a mask. To that last point, a Fox Business report posted July 1 cited a Goldman Sachs study that says a national face mask mandate would slow the spread of COVID-19 and potentially prevent the reinstatement of lockdowns that would wreak havoc on the U.S. economy. He also cautioned about the slipping of citizen compliance.
“If you have citizen compliance dropping and you don’t have local governments enforcing, then you’re going to see the virus go up. Period.” Phase 3 indoor dining in New York City was postponed due to a combination of lack of local enforcement, an influx of visitors and lack of public compliance, Cuomo added.
In Phase 4, social distancing, face-covering and hygiene protocols continue to apply. Arts and entertainment businesses are mandated to limit workforce and patron/visitor presence to no more than 33% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area at any given time outside, and to no more than 25% of maximum occupancy inside.
Mandatory directives regarding the resuming of professional sports competitions include there be no live audience, fans, or spectators allowed to attend or to enter the venue. Additionally, fans are prohibited from congregating outside the venue.
The industries which remain closed are amusement parks, video lottery gaming and casino gaming facilities, indoor movie theaters, large gathering concert or event venues, indoor common portions of retail shopping malls greater than 100,000 square feet and gyms and fitness centers. This week more than 200 gym-goers in West Virginia were urged to quarantine after a Planet Fitness client tested positive for Covid-19.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Work continues on the development of a multi-story parking garage that will connect conference attendees and others with the Saratoga Springs City Center.
Plans call for the lower level of the structure to be completed and available for use during the summer, with all levels of the structure completed by the fall.
“The goal is as soon as possible,” City Center Executive Director Ryan McMahon said this week, as a 400 ton crane tended to the business at hand atop the lot where the structure is being developed.
The COVID-19 pandemic slightly affected the progress of the development.
“We’ll probably open now in early November instead of early October,” McMahon said.
The City Center itself, like most all other venues across the country where large groups of people gather, has canceled events during the pandemic - although the good news is that most of those events have been rescheduled to take place at a later time, McMahon said. A handful of previously scheduled events slated to take place during the summer are still being held in the hopeful anticipation that they may be able to take place.
The greater Capital Region –a multi-county area that includes Saratoga – this week entered the third phase of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s four-phase reopening plan. Should infection, hospitalization and death rates due to COVID-19 remain low, the region is slated to enter Phase 4 on July 1. Phase 4 includes arts, entertainment, and recreation.
City’s State of Emergency Expired
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City’s State of Emergency expired Friday, June 12, and per the recommendation of the City Emergency Management Committee, Mayor Meg Kelly decided not to extend it for another period of time.
Plans to Reopen City Hall in July
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The schedule for moving employees into City Hall is set and should be completed during the week of June 29.
Plans call for the July 7 City Council meeting to be held in-person, and open for the public to attend.
City Hall closed in the aftermath of a lightning strike and flood which badly damaged the building in August 2018. The building, which was constructed in 1871, has undergone a massive, multi-million dollar renovation. Most of city government was relocated to the Vanderbilt Avenue recreation facility, and following the implementation of COVID-19 restrictions, city meetings have been held via Zoom.
At City Hall, there will be maximum occupancy limitations and access and safety protocols that will shortly be announced, the city says.
It is anticipated City Hall offices will re-open to the public by mid-July.
New City Firehouse Seeks Design Services Bids
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City of Saratoga Springs will receive sealed bids for Proposed Firehouse #3 – Design Services. Sealed bids must be received in their entirety by the City of Saratoga Springs, Office of the Commissioner of Accounts, 15 Vanderbilt Avenue, Saratoga Springs, New York, 12866, by 2 p.m. on Thursday July 2. Copies of the request for proposal (RFP) may be obtained on the City’s web page at www.saratoga-springs.org, under current bids.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A local team ran four-miles every four-hours, for 48 hours straight, until they reached a total of 52 miles.
Alexandra Besso and friend Simon Wood joined together to complete the 4x4x48 challenge, designed by David Goggins, a retired Navy Seal, author and motivational speaker. Completed this past weekend, Besso said the experience was one to remember.
“The reason I chose to do this is because I got into triathlon and ultra-running a few years ago and this year was my first big year of really intensely running. I signed up for a 50-mile ultra-marathon over in Vermont. Due to COVID-19 that race and all of my smaller training races were cancelled,” Besso said. “I set a goal for myself of running 50 miles and it was something that was important to me to achieve. I figured if I couldn’t do it through my race in Vermont, I would do it on my own.”
Besso used the challenge to give back to the Saratoga Community. There are 12 separate runs, broken into four-hour segments, that are completed to make up the 4x4x48. Besso and Wood decided as part of their charity run, they would donate one of those segments to #SaratogaStrong and local businesses.
“What better way to not only achieve my own goal, but also do something to help the local community that I love so much,” Besso said.
The seventh segment Besso and Wood completed occurred this past Saturday at 12 p.m. The two ran down Broadway, sporting #SaratogaStrong t-shirts, and visited five of their favorite downtown businesses. They then purchased a gift card through the help of SIX Marketing, a full-service marketing agency.
Another aspect of the charity run was a $520 donation to Wellspring. Spoken Boutique, located at 27 Church St, sponsored $5 for every mile Besso and Wood completed. They each ran a total 51.2 miles during the challenge raising $260. SIX Marketing then matched that donation, bringing the total to $520.
The pair plan to keep on giving this weekend, when five Facebook friends of Spoken Boutique will be the winners of a gift card.
“I think we will pick five random individuals in the community after they comment on a photo of Simon and I running down Broadway. We’ll ask them how they support their local community and randomly select the people to give away the gift cards to,” Besso said.
The gift cards purchased and given away include $75 to Spoken Boutique and $50 each to Kru Coffee, Max Londons, iRun Local and Impressions of Saratoga. They will post the photo on the Spoken Boutique Facebook page on Saturday and choose winners later next week.
Besso added: “part of the motivation for me was setting this David Goggins challenge and doing it on my own. Setting a goal is important and I’m a very competitive person…it was important to me to achieve that goal even if it was more of a non-traditional way.”
Besso has completed local races in the past, such as the Hudson Crossing triathlon and Code Blue 5-mile race. One local company that made preparing for this race much easier was Greenfork. Based in Saratoga, Greenfork is a meal prep service that provides nutritious meals for the health conscious in the community by using fresh and local ingredients.
“Greenfork made everything a lot easier, not having to worry about going to the grocery store,” Besso said.
Moving forward, Besso and Wood will compete in a 50k run, 32 miles, in the Battlefield sometime in August.
“Once I achieve something I’m always looking for another goal that is more difficult, a little more mileage or more intimidating. We’ll see what the future holds. I would love to complete a 100-miler one day,” Besso said. “Being able to combine my love for participating in the sport of running and the challenge of doing something that seems almost out of reach…being able to accomplish those two things feels amazing. Saratoga has been a wonderful community to me since I’ve been here. The community helps each other and everyone helps in their own way…this is just my way.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Summertime in Saratoga may feature new dimensions in the outdoor dining experience. Literally.
In an effort to help downtown businesses increase customer capacity while remaining compliant to COVID-19 restrictions, the city is exploring a variety of possibilities that would allow its merchants to expand their businesses across city sidewalks.
The City Council is expected to address the matter at its Tuesday, June 16 meeting - immediately preceded by a public hearing at 6:55 p.m.
A working draft of a proposal that will be presented to the council is being crafted this week.
“Right now, the draft is basically allowing businesses to use the sidewalk as long as it’s ADA compliant – which is 48 inches for people to walk back and forth,” Accounts Commissioner John Franck said on June 9, one week prior to the meeting. Specifically, the measure would allow restaurants and other establishments to expand their outdoor spaces onto sidewalks, as long as 48 inches of pedestrian walkway is maintained, as per Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
“We want to see how that affects things. Is that going to move the needle for the restaurants one way or another? Do we need to do more?” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton.
With summer approaching and some, but not all, state mandated restrictions related to COVID-19 being lifted, the idea of municipalities and businesses seeking creative ways to reopen the economy is a fluid one. Between this week and next week those creative options may change. Another idea being floated involves eliminating one lane of parking on city side streets to expand even greater the usable spaces for businesses.
“A second option would be to look at the side streets, take one lane of parking away from the side streets and put up Jersey barriers between the parking lane and the driving lane,” Commissioner Dalton explained. That move would allow the current parking lane to become a barriered pedestrian walkway, and free existing sidewalks in their entirety for vendors and restaurants to use. Jersey barriers are concrete partitions and are so-named because of their notable use as median barriers in the late 1940s in New Jersey.
Commissioner Franck has been leading the charge for the second option. “I’m hoping and really pushing for the change to also have the ability to add some of the street space – not close streets down – but to put barriers down that would allow more area in front of businesses – especially restaurants and bars – to give you more space for walking area and also in front of your restaurant, bar, or retail,” Franck said.
“It’s evolving, and I don’t know if the votes are there for it, but why not just put a Jersey barrier out there along one side of the street. This isn’t for the next 20 years; later we could go back to business as usual, but the summer’s here – let’s get this done,” he said.
It is not clear whether that second measure may also be part of the June 16 meeting, but a majority of Council members – at least three of five member votes – are required to approve the proposal for it to take effect.
That installation of barriers would be for a temporary period – perhaps only through the summer – but they would stay in place throughout the period of implementation. In other words, they wouldn’t be removed and re-inserted on a daily basis, or in accordance with business hours. And while they would only be placed on certain blocks in the downtown business core – and not on Broadway – their implementation could extend to both the east and west side of the city.
As to which side streets the barriers would specifically be installed needs to be figured out. “It’s not like we’re going to impose it on everyone. The code would be re-written such that if the need is there, it’s something we can do. We want to take logical steps,” Dalton said.
The Public Hearing will begin at 6:55 p.m. Two agenda items later into the meeting address the matter. The chapter amendment may be viewed HERE and a draft of the licensing process may be viewed HERE.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In every public crisis, people rely on the training and courage of first responders and emergency medical personnel. While that remains true in the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams whose mettle are most tested are in
Saratoga Hospital’s Chair and Medical Director of Saratoga Hospital Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Josenia “Joy” Tan, MD, MT(ASCP), FCAP, and Director of Laboratory Services Richard Vandell, MS, MT(ASCP)SC, SH, knew they were facing a virus that spread like wildfire, but no one really knew how or how to identify those infected.
According to Dr. Tan, “Even large laboratories were making decisions in the dark. So we read everything we could get our hands on for ideas. The community was counting on us, so we worked the science and kept figuring it out.”
Dr. David M. Mastrianni, senior vice president of Saratoga Hospital Medical Group, said, “Let me explain how rare our laboratory team is. When we ran out of viral transport media, they made it. When we were low on testing swabs, they had them 3D printed. When testing kits were becoming scarce, they started batch testing. And they couldn’t just implement these changes. They had to first prove these ideas worked. Other lab directors would have given up, but not ours.”
According to Dr. Mastrianni, this response is not typical for labs outside of research campuses or even in larger hospitals. This higher level of function meant the lab was conducting research and validating the results, all while testing the public and patients for the virus as well as performing all their regular non-pandemic duties.
“Our first task was to stop the spread, and you can’t do that without testing to identify who has it,” Vandell said. “We didn’t have enough testing supplies. No one did. But we always find a plan B.”
The lab’s initial accomplishment was to establish a testing tent in record time, making Saratoga Hospital the first and longest continuously running specimen collection facility for the COVID-19 test in the region. Overall, Saratoga Hospital has tested nearly 8,000 people.
Then, to assure the safety of patients and staff and conserve protective gear (PPE), the hospital decided to test every inpatient. For a long time, it was the only hospital in the region to do that. Additionally, the lab obtained “rapid test” capabilities, a test for COVID-19 that could be done in-house and returns quicker results.
These tests remain in short supply, so the lab researched “batch (or pooled) testing” to help conserve them. Five samples of low-risk patients are now combined into one vial. If the test comes back negative, four test kits as well as PPE are saved. If it comes back positive, which only happens less than 1% of the time, patients are retested individually.
Saratoga Hospital offers physician-ordered antibody testing services, an in-house test that is another innovative use of existing resources brought about by the lab team. When rapid test collection swabs were hard to find, the team researched and obtained 3D printed swabs and validated them for use.
When many hospitals stopped testing due to a shortage of viral transport medium, a solution that preserves a patient’s sample on its way to be tested, Saratoga Hospital’s lab and in-house pharmacy made it from scratch, following CDC guidelines, then the lab validated its quality and purity, and now there’s an ample supply.
With the combined efforts of physician leadership, the infectious disease team, senior leadership, and others, the lab also developed a diagnostic algorithm to help physicians decide which test to use and when to use it. At the time, there wasn’t one for COVID-19.
“Our process and data for it have been submitted to the FDA and NYS Department of Health,” Dr. Tan said, “Once authorized, anyone in the country can follow our procedure. It’s remarkable, the amount of collaboration and support we have to do this.”
Working with its affiliate partner, Albany Med, Saratoga Hospital has been able to continuously work with the state laboratory to keep results moving. And Skidmore College loaned its biosafety hood, which allows laboratory scientists to safely handle infectious specimens, once the lab realized the two they had would not be enough to handle the extra capacity.
“There’s so much riding on what we do,” Vandell said. “Testing is key to reopening and will continue to be a challenge into the foreseeable future.”
Dr. Mastrianni agreed. “To successfully meet a pandemic head on, it all boils down to having people who are really bright and a supportive administration that lets them use their imagination, good judgment, and years of experience to do what they do best.”