NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — Solaris Diagnostics, a Nicholasville-based medical testing company, increased testing production more than 260 times pre-pandemic production to keep up with the demand of coronavirus testing. As a second wave hits India, the company sent help in the form of 1000 oxygen concentrators.
"We are a high complexity molecular infectious disease lab," said Solaris Diagnostics Chief Marketing Officer Cole Aebersold.
Prior to the pandemic, the company processed tests for respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, blood cultures and other tests at a rate of up to 200 tests a day. When the pandemic hit and requests poured in for COVID-19 tests, the company doubled down.
"Near August we were doing 40,000 a day," said Solaris Diagnostics Chief Operating Officer John Drury. "We reached a capacity where we had seven days a week 24 Seven running every day. We worked holidays, we worked, everything just to keep up with the demand. We had a turnaround time that was top in the state. If not, one of the top in the nation."
To increase production dramatically, the company expanded their lab, extended employee hours and hired more than 200 Jessamine County residents and medical school students who were looking for work. The company also became its own courier service.
"The goal there was, the faster we can get the sample, the faster we can get the result," explained Drury. "UPS does their job. They struggled through this, FedEx the same thing. All we could do was we had to do it ourselves. Anything [COVID tests] that was within about a 200-mile radius, we tried to get ourselves, that was something we could feasibly do. And so, by getting the sample here potentially eight hours earlier gives that patient an eight-hour earlier test result."
Fast forward to Spring 2021 when the vaccine became more-widely available, causing Solaris Diagnostics to drop down to only processing about 10,000 coronavirus test results a day. The company's founder and CEO Dr. Preetpal S. Sidhu heard about another need.
"I was hearing stories from my brother back in India. I was looking at social media, and people were posting the videos where patients were going to hospitals, and hospitals for turning them back, you know, because they didn't have beds; they didn't have oxygen to support them. And when you hear so much you know...So I thought, 'Okay let's, let's do my part,'" explained Sidhu.
After nearly a year of seeing how the pandemic affected small towns and hospitals with limited resources in Kentucky, the Solaris Diagnostics' leadership team decided to step in.
"We saw the effects of that here locally. And then when we heard the story of what was going on in India with their second wave, we could relate," Aebersold said.
"[The] second wave in India was devastating," emphasized Sidhu. "You know, it's enormous there, and hospitals are overwhelmed. Hospitals are not prepped for this, and the requirement for oxygen has increased significantly."
The company arranged for 1,000 oxygen concentrators to arrive in Sidhu's village during the second week of March
"The place where I belong, it's a small village. It's like 1,000 people that live in that small village, and we have a community hospital, and that hospital doesn't even have a single oxygen concentrator," said Sidhu. "And same thing was true with our whole county. There were only few oxygen concentrators back there."
The devices help patients breathe easier by taking air from the atmosphere and concentrating the oxygen.
Sidhu explained the scene when the truck full of the devices reached one of the 25 hospitals last week.
"There was hundreds of patients standing outside, and the hospital was basically telling that, 'You know, we don't have any oxygen you know you just have to go back.' And finally, the truck reached there and we were able to help those hundreds of patients that were standing outside the hospital," Sidhu said.
Solaris Diagnostics continues to process coronavirus tests and said the company hopes other Kentucky companies will join in meeting the need of the pandemic if they are able.
"Right now we are facing a common enemy, you know? COVID.,' said Sidhu. "Everyone should help each other, whether that help is just helping them with a meal. If they're not, if they're out of job, or helping them with any kind of education about COVID or helping them with the transportation to the hospital--fighting every health matter. And I think this is the time we all have to get together and help each other."