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'I enjoy the adrenaline of it': Alexander takes pride in being director of laboratory services at hometown hospital
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'I enjoy the adrenaline of it': Alexander takes pride in being director of laboratory services at hometown hospital

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Editor’s note: "Community Champions" is a weekly feature in which area residents who are advocates for the community are profiled. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, The Telegram recently began spotlighting the members of Columbus Community Hospital’s Incident Command team that is on the frontlines working to help the community during this crisis. All previous published stories can be found on columbustelegram.com.

Elizabeth Alexander was never one of those people who had trouble figuring out what she wanted to do with her life. She knew pretty early on.

While in high school, she took a career assessment test that essentially solidified her desire to enter the world of research.

“I liked science, so that took me in that direction,” Alexander said. “I went into the medical/technology program because I decided I wanted to go into research – cancer research, new testing studies, anything out there in the medical field.”

Fast forward years later, Alexander is Columbus Community Hospital’s longtime director of laboratory services. As the laboratory director, her primary responsibilities include planning, organizing and directing the CCH laboratory department that provides chemistry, hematology, coagulation, immunology and microbiology testing for use in diagnosis and treatment of diseases. She also ensures laboratory services are of the highest quality, cost-effective and carried out in an expeditious manner. In addition, she makes sure departmental operations remain in compliance with state and federal regulations and accreditation standards.

“Elizabeth has a long and stellar track record of excellence, cooperation, open communication, and trust. Those attributes, along with her thoughtful support, have helped Columbus Community Hospital craft a positive response against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Amy Blaser, CCH vice president of physician relations/business development. “During the past two-and-a-half-months, Elizabeth has built on her knowledge and work experience to be a source of strength and leadership in her role on the incident command team and has led her direct reporting teams, providing the clinical support for the diagnosis of COVID-19.”

COLUMBUS GROWN

Born and raised in the self-proclaimed “City of Power and Progress,” Alexander relished growing up in the then-small (smaller than today), rural Nebraska town.

“I enjoyed Columbus. Columbus to me had the right size,” she recalled. “You felt comfortable going out anywhere you wanted to go.”

Often, Alexander hopped on her bicycle and made her way all over town to join friends in various activities, such as swimming at the community pool or roller skating excursions. She attended St. Bonaventure throughout grade school and eventually went on to Scotus Central Catholic High School. At the latter, she truly discovered her passion for science and research. Upon high school graduation, she was ready to take her ambition to new heights.

THINGS COME TOGETHER

Alexander opted to attend Wayne State College in Wayne, where she enrolled in its 3-plus-1 program to pursue her interest in research. Students enrolled in this program study for three years at their home university and then applied for a one-year internship. She got hers at the Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri. There, she underwent rotations throughout the department’s microbiology, chemistry, hematology and coagulation divisions, among other things.

“I truly enjoyed it, she said. "It was a larger hospital facility in Kansas City, so there were many types of exposures to different types of testing."

Alexander got her Bachelor of Science (now called a medical laboratory sciences degree) in 1989 from Wayne State. While there, she also met the love of her life, Colin. The couple married the same year she graduated – on Sept. 30.

The Alexanders for about a year continued to live in Kansas City, where she got a job working for the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City metropolitan area.

“They had a research area in their virology and immunology department,” she said, noting she was part of a team conducting HIV research at the time.

The time she spent part of that team was rewarding and also a chance for her to get valuable experience. But it would only be the start of her journey in health care.

HOME SWEET HOME

In 1990, the couple decided to move back to Columbus after her husband got a job in town. As fate would have it, Alexander found a job of her own at CCH as a generalist in its laboratory department. She did that for three years before getting promoted to transfusion medicine supervisor, a position she held for 14 years. In 2008, her efforts paid off again as she was promoted to her current role. She hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve been here about 30 years,” Alexander said.

Although her work is an important part of her life, it’s only one aspect of it. She takes a lot of pride in her family. She and her husband are approaching their 31-year wedding anniversary, and in those three decades since they’ve tied the knot, their family has grown exponentially. The couple has three grown sons: Matthew, Aaron and Cole. Matthew, 29, and his wife, Kasey, have a 2-year-old son, Aiden (Alexander’s first and only grandchild as of now). Then there’s 26-year-old Aaron and 24-year-old Cole.

When she’s not working or hanging out with family, Alexander enjoys going for long walks and knocking out a challenging puzzle.

Of course, free time is a bit of luxury these days with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She’s been an instrumental part of CCH’s Incident Command team, helping the health care facility manage the challenges that come with dealing with the ongoing pandemic firsthand.

“Elizabeth has worked round-the-clock to procure swabs for specimen collection, coordinated efficient courier transportation to both state and commercial reference laboratories, led the addition of instrumentation and improved reporting mechanisms, and helped to coordinate new procedures such as rapid, on-site testing and convalescent plasma along with associated staff training,” Blaser said. "Elizabeth is an excellent and reliable resource called upon frequently to provide guidance to physicians and staff alike. She has proven to be an expert in building relationships and has helped build exceptional teamwork between the nursing and laboratory staff.”

Alexander supervises 32 people, who under her leadership share some of the occupational characteristics of frontline medical personnel, and have to be mindful of their personal safety as they perform their work. It doesn’t stop there, though.

“In addition to her work in the laboratory, Elizabeth has been an important part of the COVID-19 hotline team. While she does not take 24/7 calls, she has been available 24/7 for questions related to testing and her eye for detail ensures that important details are not missed, which makes everyone’s job easier,” Blaser said. “Elizabeth has worked very hard and has done an outstanding job during the pandemic.”

It’s undoubtedly challenging at times, but Alexander has always been proud of what she does day in, day out.

“What I like about my job is the patient and position satisfaction. I come in every day and no day is the same, every day brings a new question …” she said, noting that her parents' love and support allowed her to be the person she is today and helped her get to where she's at. “It’s like trying to solve that puzzle or research that new test out there so you can get more information.”

Alexander said she has no idea when the pandemic will end, but stressed that she and others at CCH will continue to work hard to keep people safe and healthy as best they can.

“It has been fast and furious, but enjoyable along the way because everyone is working as a team here at the hospital,” she said. “Every day is a different challenge that I have to meet, but I enjoy it. I enjoy the adrenaline of it.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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Managing Editor

Matt Lindberg is an award-winning journalist and graduate of the University of Kansas.

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