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Tuesday, 22 September 2015 12:50

Old Harbour chose me: The Global Labs story

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Delano Pryce, medical technician, uses a microscope to analyze a sample Delano Pryce, medical technician, uses a microscope to analyze a sample Photo: Peter Simmonds/Mystic5 Photo

In 2011 Global Laboratories and Health Services, now located in Old Harbour, was facing formidable challenges. Opening just before the recessionary period, it took guts and gusto from management and team to have its services not only still available, but also to chart a path for growth, development and expansion of its service offerings.

“How could you give me notice to cease occupation when I am about to turn the business around for better; are you not concerned about others?” Mahalia Watson recalled saying to her then Landlord at Molynes Road in the nation’s capital Kingston.

“This could be the actual turn around,” a team member offered, as a shocked Watson observed.

In July 2011 while wandering through the town of Old Harbour in search of new clientele, Watson burst into laughter and mused to herself, ‘why not move to Old Harbour?’

As divine as the musings were, so was the journey of relocating the company, one of the most difficult tasks for any fledgling business anywhere in the world, let alone Jamaica, and made even more difficult by the fact that the decision was taken at short notice with a deadline for exiting former premises fast approaching.

Watson, principal director and manager of the company, found herself in an unenviable position. But perhaps growing up in rural Jamaica and being “an island and a globe trotter” made her the ideal candidate for such a task. By sheer coincidence or “divine intervention” Old Harbour was the place of choice.

Resettling into a new environment is usually not an easy thing. And so it was for Watson and her business. “I am being consumed by the deluge of work involved, but how can I stop after God gave me this open door?” she told Old Harbour News in an interview outside the precincts of her 5 South Street, Old Harbour office.

“Old Harbour chose me,” she added in retrospect. “I had no referral about the town, limited experience within its boundaries and I did not do any research. I just followed my inspiration! Today I have no regrets.”

As she recounted several hiccups, she smiled broadly, saying “all the challenges now pale in comparison to the opportunities I am now able to capitalize on and create for the business, the team and the clients”.

With even more enthusiasm she adds, “as a rule, I welcome challenges because my experience in life and business has unreservedly cemented the fact that every blessing come disguised as a challenge”.

Perspective on Old Harbour

Four years onwards, Watson is in love with this tiny town along the Jamaican south coast that now accommodates approximately 50,000 people residing and/or doing business. As one of the fastest growing towns on the island, due to a massive influx of housing projects, Old Harbour – a town historically famous for seafood, bammy and dancehall parties – is projected to grow twice as much in the near future.

The demand for quality goods and services is naturally on the rise here and while there is talks of a logistic hub on the Goat Islands situated less than a mile off the Old Harbour Bay coast, there are significant spin-offs projected for any business located in the town.

Essentially, opportunities abound more than ever for Old Harbour and its people. But in an era dominated by the Internet and more-so social media, quality and diversity are distinct advantages. It is precisely what Watson and her small staff have set out to achieve. Hence the provision of a health and wellness component that complements its core functions as a medical laboratory testing facility.

Watson, a certified medical laboratory technologist and a Landmark Life Coach said: “We thought ‘how could we be different?’ Everybody does testing and reporting. So we thought having a health service component will make a difference and be a mark of distinction. So we started to (offer free) suggestions to clients, suggestions that would support them nutritionally and if someone require significant intervention we refer them to practicing medical, health and wellness professionals. We actually have two wellness affiliates whom we refer our clients to for further help with nutrition and lifestyle changes.”

“We are about to introduce health products to the town of Old Harbour as well as a wider scope of health and wellness services,” she added.

Looking Forward

While the diversity of services is important, it is also critical for Watson and her team to remain true to its core functions so as not to be outdone by the competition. And they are quite a few in Old Harbour.

Presently, plans are afoot to streamline its operations to offer same-day test results – done now only if a test is deemed urgent by the patient’s general practitioner.

“We are building the laboratory’s capacity to generate results and reports the same day and before the end of 2015 we will have that system in place,” she said, noting that Global Laboratories is implementing value-added systems and causing client satisfaction.

Behind the Scenes

Watson then explained: “There are many things that happen behind the scenes. We’ve upgraded our testing technology with two new analyzers and we continue to asses and project for the needs of Old Harbour and other populations; we are currently in negotiation with laboratory software providers to procure a laboratory information system which will improve operational efficiency by at least 30 per cent.

“We are not just about collecting, testing and reporting. We do our checks and balances. And if the checks and balance suggest that some tests are not to be accepted because certain criteria are not fulfilled; then we don’t report results.

“For example: If you come for a diabetes or cholesterol test, we look at quality control values and if they are not within the rules (that guide whether or not we can accept the test readings), the quality control rules are violated and we can’t accept those test results. We then do a series of checks to see why the quality control material violated the rules. Once the source of the violation is determined and rectified we re-test client’s sample.

“As we gradually phase in a quality assurance system, we investigate our systems frequently; we take the feedback from clients and implement corrective actions. We corroborate these data with our business objectives and implement policies and training programmes to ensure quality improvement over time.”

A wide range of tests are performed daily including the very popular Pap smear, given the high rate of cervical cancer amongst women in Jamaica. Blood tests include diabetes, cholesterol and checks for liver, kidney and other body functions. DNA paternity, maternity and identification as well as other advanced metabolic testing are facilitated via a cadre of local and international based affiliates.

Customer Trust and Confidence

“We listen to the concerns of the clients and we answer the concerns of the client. We don’t just take your money and run your tests. In listening there is a relationship that we establish and all staff is trained and are continuously re-trained in our 360° technology. This is a work in progress, training frontline staff to really listen to and respond to the concerns of the client.

While strong emphasis is placed on delivering quality results, exceptional customer service and hospitality, the customer’s information is a well guarded secret, she tells Old Harbour News.

In a world where technological advances have caused customer information compromises, protecting customers’ information builds a giant trust account in the world of business, so that statement is quite laudable to hear. That position taken by the company has also been bringing the business and the people closer, she believes.

“I love the people of Old Harbour. My experience is that the people are unique, special and inspiring. If we at the laboratory treat them according to their uniqueness they will respond favourably to our business products and services. And they have responded to us. As we continuously face our challenges, we’ve kept the dialogue open with the people and the people have been amazingly loving and understanding,” she said.

In response to the question, ‘how long would you see yourself doing business in Old Harbour?’ Watson said: “I would not move the business out of Old Harbour for love or money; I have rooted it here and built relationships and we will expand beyond our roots. I absolutely love Old Harbour and love doing business in Old Harbour”.

Watson, a Kingstonian by birth, spent most of her early life growing up in Manchioneal Portland, and Bog Walk St. Catherine before college and overseas assignments took her to several places around the world.

Her passion for Old Harbour is obvious. While finding her feet in Old Harbour, she took on the task of re-establishing the Old Harbour Chamber of Commerce which she led until recently when she stepped down as its president, saying it was time for others to serve.

But she believes the potential of this transforming town is immeasurable and urges entrepreneurs to start positioning their business for emerging growth.

Global Labs Contribution to Community Development

The entire team at the laboratory is at some time involved in making a difference to the development in the community, especially to the young people. The team participates in training volunteers at its facility, visits classes at Old Harbour Primary School and supports the learning activities, while participating in most of the various community development committees in the area.

Watson also engages youngsters in her self-created mathematics camp, which is a free service offered to any secondary school student residing in Old Harbour who wants to excel at the subject.

Watson’s depth of contribution even goes as far as doing voluntary work in facilitating seminars at the St. Catherine Adult Correctional Centre.

The Next Five Years

In the next five years she envisions “Old Harbour will not look the way it is today”.

“The picture of Old Harbour is that of a significantly more sophisticated town. I am seeing people coming to Old Harbour asking, ‘What is happening here? I want to know and be a part of it!’

“I see festivals, art and jazz shows, sporting and many other calendar events happening within the next five years. In a town that doesn’t sleep there’s always a buzz of activities and five years from now that buzz of activity is a well sought-after destination for business, residency and leisure,” she concluded.

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