Changing perceptions and powering growth

Case Study

Looking to elevate laboratory operations, Yuma Regional’s hospital directors established a leadership model that pairs medical and administrative leaders, resulting in a changed perception of the laboratory’s ability to drive profitability and a $40 million capital investment in laboratory infrastructure.

Their challenge

Within the past six years, Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC) has experienced enormous growth. Situated in southern Arizona midway between Phoenix and San Diego, it’s evolved from a singular hospital facility to a healthcare system encompassing 39 ambulatory locations.

“Our mission as an organization is very much driven by the needs of our community,” says Trudie Milner, Ph.D., chief operating officer at Yuma Regional Medical Center. “It guides us strategically and helps us to prioritize those specialties we need to bring into our community in order to help and serve the people of Yuma and Yuma County.”

High-quality diagnostics is one of those specialties. Yuma’s laboratory has innovated solutions to expand testing capacity to keep pace with the growing demand for laboratory diagnostics, processing more than 2 million tests annually. As a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, Yuma has further amplified its reach through send-out laboratory testing collaborations. But with ongoing population expansion, driven by migrating snowbirds as well as younger families, the laboratory needed to rethink how best to serve residents.

“We could see our volumes growing, but we were also growing as a health system with all of these locations that were out in our community,” Dr. Milner says. “How were we going to deal with the lab question in those environments? Should we have draw stations in practices? What should we be thinking about for growth and expansion?”

By the numbers

Their solution

Dr. Milner, who has been with YRMC for 10 years, explains that in her previous role as vice president for hospital operations, she immersed herself in understanding how the lab could expand its contribution to the organization’s revenue stream.

“As I started to dig into that, I really became aware that some things were going to be critical to change leadership's perception of lab, but also to help our board understand the important role that lab had to play,” Dr. Milner says.

Foremost among the aspects of the lab that needed changing was how it was led, Dr. Milner says.

“In order to really run a truly successful lab, you’ve got to have a certain type of leadership model,” Dr. Milner says. “And in our scenario, we very much embraced the Mayo leadership model. So finding the right pathologist to serve as medical director partnered with a strong administrative leader was the very first step in that direction.”

Mayo Clinic’s leadership model, known as dyad leadership, was established in 1908 when Dr. Will Mayo recruited Harry Harwick to help manage the administrative and financial aspects of Mayo Clinic operations.

At YRMC, Dr. Milner tapped Neal Kachalia, administrative director for the laboratory, to serve as the administrative leader, and molecular pathologist Brent Bedke, M.D., to serve as the medical director.

“We very much embrace and have inculcated a dyad triad leadership model into all aspects of our operations,” Dr. Milner says. “In fact, we’ve been told that our hospital has sent more dyad partners to Mayo Clinic, Rochester for leadership training than any other hospital who participates in the Mayo Clinic Care Network.”

Laboratory leaders understand the business of the laboratory very well, says Kachalia. . But communicating how the laboratory can be a boon to the community can be challenging without medical support.

“Everywhere in the healthcare field, lab is seen as a cost center,” Kachalia says. “So it is very hard to convince them that this is the right thing for our community and also this is a good thing for our bottom line.”

Working alongside YRMC’s medical and administrative laboratory leaders, Mayo Clinic outreach specialists performed invaluable foundational work that countered the view of the lab as a cost center.

“Mayo Clinic Laboratories came in, sat down, sought first to understand what was happening in our lab, and then educated us on key information points — these are the things you need to think about, these are the questions you need to ask — and provided us for all intents and purposes with a roadmap,” Dr. Milner says.

With a strong leadership framework in place and armed with insights from Mayo Clinic outreach specialists, Kachalia and Dr. Milner demonstrated the lab’s profitability and growth potential through data-supported projections to hospital leadership, who in turn elevated the role of the laboratory within the organization.

“We had a lot of good validation on the data and (Mayo consultants) were able to put down the things in a presentable format, and they were really great to facilitate that communication to the executive team,” Kachalia says, “which helped us kind of get to the next point that yes, we are going to focus on lab outreach. And we ended up getting approval to build a new $40 million lab.”

Their results

  • Hospital leadership approved plans to build a $40 million dedicated laboratory building within YRMC’s main hospital. Slated for opening in May 2024, the new space will triple the laboratory’s footprint, allowing for expansion of high-demand testing areas and implementation of more automated processes.
  • Devised creative recruitment and retention solutions to maintain a robust workforce. These include developing an internship program that trains high school graduates as laboratory technical assistants and implementing a training program that helps individuals who hold associate or bachelor’s degrees become certified as medical technologists.
  • Prioritized placement of laboratory services into the newly opened Foothills Medical Plaza Emergency Department. The 48,000-square-foot medical office building offers emergency care, walk-in services, lab testing, radiology services, and other specialty care, 24/7 hours a day to residents in the county’s eastern region.  

What’s next?

Laboratory outreach is critical to Yuma’s ability to continue providing superior service throughout its laboratory operations. Kachalia explains that Yuma’s outreach program has been slowly developing and by the end of 2024, the program will be fully implemented.

To understand how to structure a successful outreach program and grow their business, Yuma leaders will look to Mayo experts to learn best practices.

“Mayo can really help us be the champion and connect with our providers,” Kachalia says.

As YMRC’s laboratory outreach evolves, the team will continue taking advantage of Mayo Clinic’s laboratory insights in support of providing superior care.

“How can we leverage that resource to connect with our providers, be it the cardiac surgeons or oncologists or so forth and say, ‘This is what you're doing — you can do it differently and you can have better outcomes,” Kachalia says. “So sometimes your expense might increase, but the whole patient care expense might get less because you're having better outcomes.”

Learn more about partnering with Mayo Clinic Laboratories

“In order to really run a truly successful lab, you've got to have a certain type of leadership model. And in our scenario, we very much embraced the Mayo leadership model. Finding the right pathologist to serve as medical director partnered with a strong administrative leader was the very first step in that direction.”

Trudie Milner, Ph.D., senior vice president and chief operating officer, Yuma Regional Medical Center


Robin Huiras-Carlson

Robin Huiras-Carlson is a senior marketing specialist at Mayo Clinic Laboratories and a Mayo Clinic employee since 2015. Her writing focuses on specialty testing, innovation, and patient-focused initiatives.