St. John’s United Awards COVID-19 Research Grant to MSUB

Billings Area Highlights

St. John’s Establishes Laboratory to Support testing and monitoring of COVID-19

St. John’s United awards grant to Montana State University Billings (MSUB) to establish the Montana Pooled & Environmental Testing Laboratory (MPET) in the interest of enhancing surveillance protocols for COVID-19 while reducing the needs of valuable testing materials. The project will be led by Dr. Dan Willem’s, Associate Professor of Biochemistry at MSUB. The partnership will use St. John’s United’s new state of the art Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction testing lab (RT-PCR) located at Gainan Commons in downtown Billings.

St. John’s United’s diagnostic laboratory was establish to support institutions by providing fast and reliable COVID-19 testing results. With testing results documented to take roughly seven days; undoubtedly the Billings community has individuals who are unknowingly infected and potentially spreading germs to families and neighbors. St. John’s United’s laboratory helps address this and will provide participating institutions with predictable testing windows and timely responses. The capacity of the lab, operating Tuesday through Friday, can perform up to 500 – 1,000 tests per day and, depending on expanded schedules, demand, and human capital, could triple that volume.

“Our goal is not volume, it is capacity to serve institutional care settings with testing results that are predictable and meaningful, so that long term care facilities can operate as normal as the pandemic will allow,” said David Trost, St. John’s United President and CEO. 

“The Board of Directors has made this risk investment to serve our mission of providing living opportunities within nurturing environments of hope, dignity, and love. Meaningful testing is a means to achieving this mission. Too many residents have been isolated far more often than needed just because of testing delay,” said St. John’s United Board Chair, Tom Olson.

MSUB will utilize St. John’s United’s lab and licensed staff under the grant agreement and will kick off their initial research by studying the presence of COVID-19 in household pets. It is MPET’s hope that through this research they seek to validate new protocols that are less costly and more efficient in detecting the presence of SARS-CoV2 or other infectious diseases in our community. The research will also focus on the relationships and correlations between animal and human prevalence of COVID-19.

“This study will form a framework and establishment of the MPET and set the stage for future human testing,” stated Dr. Dan Willem’s.

The St. John’s United diagnostic laboratory has received over $170,000 in contributions from donors such as First Interstate Bank, to support the lab. The funding makes it possible for St. John’s staff and residents who require quality, time sensitive testing to be done locally; freeing up the overburdened State laboratory.

St. John’s United is a Montana not-for-profit organization that provides human services and care spanning the arc of life. These services include birthparent counseling, adoption, child care, spiritual care, mental health counseling, physical rehabilitation, home for elders, At-Home support, pharmacy support, skilled nursing care, home health care, and hospice care. These services are offered with an abiding mission to provide living opportunities within nurturing environments of hope, dignity and love. 

Montana State University Billings is dedicated to delivering a transformative education to their students. Whether they are a traditional college student exploring their future or an adult learner looking to take the next step in their career or retooling/upskilling, MSU Billings offers over 115 high-demand certificates, two-year, four-year, and graduate programs, many with competitive starting wages.

Programs are offered through five colleges—College of Liberal Arts & Social SciencesCollege of BusinessCollege of EducationCollege of Health Professions and Science, including a two-year embedded City College.

MSU Billings offers small class sizes with a 14:1 student to faculty ratio. Instructors know students by name and can provide tailored resources to help them achieve their goals. MSU Billings also takes learning beyond the classroom. From service learning to numerous internship and research opportunities, students can put their education into practice and make connections that can lead to a rewarding career.

According to the 2017 Department of Labor and Industry Report, MSUB’s four-year graduates make on average $4,500 more per year than four-year graduates from other four-year Montana public institutions, one year after graduation. MSUB’s two-year graduates make on average $5,800 more per year than two-year graduates from other two-year Montana public institutions, one year after graduation.

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