Universal Diagnostic Laboratories in Van Nuys has drastically changed its business model in the wake of COVID-19 testing.The 23-year-old testing laboratory at 6700 Valjean Ave. has oscillated between business-to-business and direct-to-consumer platforms, depending on demand.“In a normal circumstance, a laboratory would only do direct business with referring physicians, but COVID has created a direct-to-consumer product,” said Natasha Madarian, vice president of business development at UDL. “Instead of somebody having to go to their doctor to get a COVID test, which they probably cannot, they can come to five of our locations.”Currently, 70 percent of UDL’s business comes from COVID testing while 30 percent (UDL’s pre-COVID business) is diagnostics – drug tests, biopsies, bloodwork – at the full service, high complexity laboratory.“With my workers’ comp background, I’ve brought in a lot of employers to the mix where we go on-site,” added Madarian, formerly with ProHealth Medical Group in Mission Hills. She started at UDL in September. “I have a medical surveillance team that we hired that are trained to go on site and help administer the PCR (COVID) test to keep things open like bakeries and production companies.”Madarian, who has multiple family members in the restaurant business, believes weekly employer testing is the golden ticket to reopening the economy while keeping everyone safe.
“In the long term, the truth is everything needs to open back up again. The closure hasn’t really made a dent in the numbers,” she said. “We just go on site and all we need for the employer site is, if they have a break room or conference room, we can set everything up. It’s only one product, and it’s a swab, so it just helps keep a safe work environment.”Besides its on-site testing for employers, UDL’s five sites for patients offer COVID tests in shopping malls in Canoga Park and Culver City, a recreation center in Calabasas, and its latest site in Burbank.“The biggest challenge we’ve had is staffing,” Madarian said. UDL has doubled its employee count since the beginning of the pandemic, from roughly 40 to 80 people.Looking ahead, UDL plans to introduce more direct-to-consumer products, specifically for testing related to sexually transmitted diseases, Madarian said. The business will continue bolstering its COVID testing capabilities, but likely will not dip into vaccinations.“We probably could; we’ve talked about it,” added Madarian. “We just don’t want to step on an area that’s not within our business model. We’re here to function as a reference laboratory for providers.”