The new incubator in the Texas County Memorial Hospital laboratory is a temperature controlled, carbon dioxide rich environment, perfect for facilitating the growth of bacteria.

The new incubator in the Texas County Memorial Hospital laboratory looks like a fancy college dorm fridge.  An unknowing visitor to the microbiology room in the lab would never know it has decreased turnaround times for laboratory cultures and improved staff efficiency.

“We typically handle 20-30 specimens that need to be cultured daily in our microbiology lab,” said Kirby Holmes, TCMH laboratory director. 

Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi and protozoa. A small portion of the TCMH laboratory is devoted to microbiology services, and all cultures require some incubation in the laboratory.

The majority of the labs that require culturing at TCMH are generated by hospital inpatients and emergency room patients. Common specimens that are collected at TCMH are incubated to check for things like urinary tract infections, wound cultures, staph infections, strep and C-difficile. An incubator provides an environment of enhanced carbon dioxide which the specimen needs to facilitate growth of bacteria.

Before the addition of the new incubator, technologists in the TCMH lab would create their own enhanced environment of carbon dioxide by using glass jars and lit candles.  The previous incubation method was time consuming, Holmes said.

The new Fisher Scientific Isotemp Direct Heat C02 Incubator is set at human body temperature: 37 degrees Celsius.  A constant stream of carbon dioxide fed into the incubator to create the ideal environment for growing bacterial cultures.

The incubator is filled with petri dishes and other vessels where the laboratory specimen may grow or not grow depending upon how the specimen is cultured.  The TCMH lab starts the cultures from specimens collected from hospital patients, and those cultures are sent on to Boyce and Bynum Pathology Laboratory in Columbia where the final laboratory results are generated.

“This incubator provides the optimal environment and space for differential cultures in multiple petri dishes,” Holmes said. “We are able to isolate and identify bacteria more quickly and easily.”

Holmes said starting the specimen cultures in house provides a jump of a few hours on identifying bacteria and starting treatment. 

“The new incubator can decrease our wait time for a culture to grow by up to a day,” Holmes said.

A microbiology analyzer for blood cultures is set up to alert the lab staff when the blood cultures are ready to be placed in petri dishes in the incubator for additional specimen growth.

All of the technologists in the TCMH laboratory use the new incubator and the microbiology tools available in the lab.

“Our techs love the new incubator, and we are very grateful to the Timmons Foundation and the TCMH Healthcare Foundation for helping us add to our microbiology tools,” Holmes said.

TCMH was able to obtain the new incubator machine through a $4,200 grant from the Bess Spiva Timmons Foundation and additional funding support of $984 from the TCMH Healthcare Foundation.

“The healthcare foundation’s partnership with the Timmons Foundation to provide grant funding to purchase the new incubator helps us improve the timeliness of the laboratory results our patients need,” said Wes Murray, TCMH chief executive officer. 

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