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Martin Till Focuses on Broadening the Reach of HNL Lab Medicine’s Life-saving Work

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on November 10, 2021

Martin K. Till became the president and CEO of HNL Lab Medicine in 2021.

The work done by the people at HNL Lab Medicine is deeply personal for new President and CEO Martin Till.

Nearly 20 years ago, when Till was a Lehigh Valley newspaper publisher, his mother fell ill while flying in from Australia for a visit. Fearing a heart issue that ran in her family, Till drove her to Lehigh Valley Hospital’s Cedar Crest emergency room.

The test her doctor ordered pointed instead to a rare lung disease that, if not treated quickly, would have killed her.

“This place literally saved my mother’s life and instilled in me a lasting recognition of the deep connection between what health care professionals do and the patients they serve,” Till said. “Every time I walk through one of our labs and look at the tubes being processed, I don’t just see tubes—I see every one of those tubes as the person they will help. In many cases, these tubes end up saving lives.”

HNL Lab Medicine is a full-service medical laboratory with a history that begins when the pathology services of Lehigh Valley Hospital Center and Allentown Hospital

HNL Lab Medicine produces more than 60 million pathology results for more than 3 million patients a year. (Photo/Joe [email protected] Ambitious Engine)

merged in 1985, leading to the establishment of HealthEast Laboratories. By 1998, the organization consolidated as Health Network Laboratories and became a for-profit limited partnership, with Lehigh Valley Health Network as its primary equity partner. In 2020, the organization rebranded as HNL Lab Medicine, its current name and company-wide identity.

Today, HNL Lab Medicine produces more than 60 million pathology results for more than 3 million patients a year. In addition to processing routine pathogen tests for flu, strep, COVID, and other illnesses, HNL is growing its home test portfolio and recently acquired a genetic testing company.

HNL operates in more than 60 locations and employs more than 1,100 people, including 35 pathologists. The company’s labs serve over 12,000 healthcare providers in communities as far away as Chambersburg, Pa., and southern New Jersey.

Till became involved in the HNL Lab Medicine organization 17 years ago, first on LVHN’s Board of Trustees and later on the Board of Directors at HNL, where he served as Board Chairman for nearly two years. He was appointed President and CEO of HNL Lab Medicine when Matthew Sorrentino retired earlier this year.

A seasoned business leader who previously served as CEO of Adept Group, President of Virtual Graphics, Regional President of J.G. Petrucci Company, and CEO, President, and Publisher of The Express-Times, Till promises to apply his brand of entrepreneurial leadership to scale up HNL Lab Medicine to deliver reliable patient care across an even larger geographical footprint. Here’s what he had to say about this goal, other advances he hopes to implement at HNL, and the life sciences sector in general:

Leadership Style

I’m visiting each of our 61 patient service centers, hitting 4 to 6 locations every Friday. We have over a thousand team members, and I want to meet every one of them and see the work environment they are operating in. I want to have discussions with my colleagues to get their ideas and their thoughts on how we can improve what we do by better understanding exactly what the patient experience is.

How HNL Handled COVID

When COVID hit, that changed everyone’s world. Matt Sorrentino and the entire HNL team did an extraordinary job of keeping this company moving forward, investing in technology to support COVID-19 testing capabilities, and really supporting this community through COVID. This was a Herculean effort of which everybody here played a part. It was truly amazing what they did. When COVID started we were limited to 120 tests per day. Now, we can do up to 4,000 a day.

Why HNL Reinvested in the School of Phlebotomy

(Photo/Joe [email protected] Ambitious Engine)

We’ve got 220 phlebotomists. What we heard was that they couldn’t afford the training program, and it took too long to take without getting paid. So, we reconfigured the program to have candidates ‘accepted’ into our phlebotomy school. We now select the best 15 applicants, pay them during training, and waive the $2,000 fee. Once they graduate, they join the HNL Lab Medicine team. We also want to grow this training program to focus on more than just technical skills—we want to continue to have pleasant, engaging, smart people as the face of our company.

Lessons from the Newspaper Business

Newspapers are manufacturers. You manufacture a new product every day. We’re not manufacturing, but we’re doing massive amounts of production every day here. We’re doing 60 million tests a year. Think about that. If you can be 1% more efficient with those 60 million tests, that’s a lot of opportunity. We need to identify efficiency improvement opportunities by asking, how well are we using technology, innovation, automation, and robotics?

Where Efficiencies Can Be Made

HNL has a large call center where we dispatch couriers to pick up test samples from boxes outside of physician offices. Instead of the physician offices making that call, why don’t we implement a smart box that automatically notifies the closest courier that it’s time for a pickup? This is the type of next-generation technology that I want to put to work for HNL.

Genetic Testing and the Future of Lab Medicine

About a year and a half ago, HNL acquired a company called Connective Tissue Gene Tests (CTGT). Genetic testing is leading the future of lab medicine. If you’re the patient, the benefits can be simply incredible—a diagnosis that was perhaps a death knell just three years ago is not today. As genetic testing capabilities expand—and they are expanding quickly—there will be more and more innovation. Our goal is to become a leader in this field, not just locally but nationally.

HNL’s Future in the Lehigh Valley

HNL Lab Medicine is headquartered here, but we can grow anywhere. We are enhancing our business model by using innovation, automation, and great people to build the future of our company. We know what capabilities we have, what we need to acquire, and how we can best scale our services. The work we do directly impacts the patient experience and patient health outcomes—studies show that up to 70% of a physician’s decision-making is dependent on lab results. This is really important work.

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