Pamplin grad on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19
When Chris Yoder (FIN ’98) was deciding which college to attend, he recognized that he wasn’t choosing between schools so much as he was choosing between degrees. Realizing he wanted to major in a business-related field, his decision became so much simpler.
“I certainly chose the right school for me,” he explained. “My time at Virginia Tech was the foundation that propelled me to my career.”
That career is as chief executive officer of Simple Laboratories, a company Yoder co-founded in 2014. Simple Laboratories is a Chicago-based independent clinical laboratory and has been on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic since day one.
“This year has been impactful and meaningful,” Yoder said. “I’m so proud of my team. Due to COVID-19, the spotlight is on the lab now, but they do this type of work every year.”
Serving patients and providers across the country, Simple Laboratories is a CLIA-certified (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments), full diagnostic clinical laboratory. Tests are performed on specimens – either collected at the doctor’s office, community health care facility, or one of their Patient Service Centers – to get information about patient health for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.
How does a finance major find himself as CEO of a diagnostic clinical laboratory? For Yoder, it was all about networking and experience.
“While I was a student, my relationships with companies were essential for me to receive my first career opportunity,” Yoder explained. “I had a Deloitte internship as a student. That internship was key to the job offers I received after graduation.”
Early in his career, Yoder performed consulting work with several different laboratories and lab-related companies. It was during this time that he was exposed to the importance of affordable health care.
“I certainly did not foresee myself going into this line of work,” explained Yoder. “However, once exposed, I saw the impact health care has on people’s lives.”
"The finance faculty and I are proud of the accomplishments of Chris Yoder and his contributions to health care, including testing for COVID-19," said Vijay Singal, department head for the Department of Finance, Insurance, and Business Law. "We prepare our graduates to excel, irrespective of the field they choose."
Simple Labs specializes in routine clinical microbiology, clinical biochemistry, and hematology tests, processing over 64,000 tests daily. “Our comprehensive test menu and services are tailored to support primary care and specialty physician offices, immediate care clinics, urgent care clinics, long-term health care facilities, community health centers, home health agencies, managed care plans, hospitals, and surgical centers,” Yoder said.
As a clinical laboratory, Simple Labs was uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Key testing materials were suddenly near impossible to obtain due to disruptions to the supply chain caused by the pandemic.
“It was challenging to obtain supplies and instruments, especially at the beginning,” Yoder explained. “It had never been so hard to get supplies.”
He continued, “We ended up building our own testing swabs kits because the original manufacture was based in Italy. Italy was hit extremely hard by the virus in the early days and those supplies were not available in the United States.
“Ensuring your team can make adjustments is key.”
Once COVID-19 tests were approved by federal and state regulatory agencies, Yoder pivoted his team to concentrate on coronavirus testing.
“We worked with the FDA and regulators to launch into testing right away,” he said. “We built a team around COVID-19 testing. We worked with the state and vendors to ensure proper machines are being used.”
As Yoder explained, each time a new test or testing procedure – be it a COVID-19 test or any other – is developed, the testing machinery, equipment, and platforms must go through a rigorous validation and verification process to ensure accuracy.
“Whenever changes are made to test, it must go through a validation process,” he said. “Four months is the normal range to receive approval for testing. For COVID-19, we have validated multiple tests, machines, and platforms in a shorter timeframe.”
Simple Labs made even more changes to their business model due to the pandemic.
“This is the first time in my tenure where we perform testing with no fees,” Yoder said. “If required to pay, people will inevitably avoid testing. But with testing available, people will change their behavior. A behavior change will, hopefully, lead to fewer cases of COVID-19.”
Yoder points out that, even though Simple Labs is a business that is uniquely suited for the current environment, the company is still made up of men and women who share the same fears and anxieties as the rest of the population.
“Our company is made of people with the same concerns, same challenges, as every other person,” he said. “Our staff have been working nights and weekends for a long time. The team puts in a tremendous effort – COVID or not.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still a very real thing, it will not last forever, Yoder notes. As such, he is looking beyond the current crisis to the future of Simple Labs.
“After COVID, hopefully, there is a return to normalcy,” he said. “Simple Labs can then expand its footprint and continue to help more and more people.”
He continued, “I want Simple Labs to continue to see growth and make a noticeable impact on the United States health care system. A person doesn’t have much if they do not have health. It’s a right I believe we all should have.”