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Alberta moves to de-privatize community lab tests in face of long waits, bottlenecks

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is de-privatizing its community lab testing in the face of long waits and bottlenecks — a move the Opposition NDP calls an admission of colossal failure and blinkered ideology.

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the province has signed a memorandum of understanding with private provider Dynalife to transfer its staff, equipment and property to the province by the end of the year.

LaGrange did not discuss the cost of the deal, saying there is a memorandum of understanding with Dynalife and those details are still being hashed out, but said action had to be taken.

“This change is necessary to make sure Albertans can get their lab work done when and where they need it and get timely results,” LaGrange told reporters Friday in Red Deer. “There will be no job loss for frontline lab workers.

“But for Albertans that need lab work done this will mean faster access to high-quality care,” she added.

LaGrange said there will be no impact on patients.

“There should be no significant change to how you access lab services,” she said. “You will still go to the same facilities you go to today. You will still book appointments through the same system.

“Existing appointments you have already booked will not be impacted, and you will still see the same frontline staff you see today.”

Under the deal, Dynalife operations will be taken over by Alberta Precision Laboratories, which is part of Alberta Health Services, the province’s health-care provider.

Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) normally handles lab tests in hospitals and urgent care centres and in remote locations where there is no community lab testing available.

Two weeks ago, LaGrange announced APL would expand working hours and take on more appointments from Dynalife to relieve the crush of backed-up appointments and test results.

She said it’s working.

“Since the beginning of August, over 700 new appointments were added in Calgary alone, so this has led to significantly reduced wait times, (but) while we saw an immediate improvement, more clearly needed to be done,” said LaGrange.

Dynalife had been providing community lab work for more than two decades in northern and central Alberta and went provincewide late last year.

But in recent months, there have been concerns over long waits, sometimes weeks, to book appointments in Calgary and the surrounding area along with long queues in the waiting room and delays in getting results processed.

NDP health critic Luanne Metz said the United Conservative government’s community lab privatization plan has been both disastrous and dangerous.

“(Premier) Danielle Smith’s incompetent handling of lab services has put Albertans in danger,” Metz said in a statement. “I am constantly hearing from patients and frontline health-care workers about extreme delays and dangerous errors in lab work.

“Dynalife is the provider selected by the UCP after they destroyed Alberta’s publicly owned lab system in 2019 and embarked on a three-year dedicated drive to privatize its crucial work,” she added.

“Now that public lab has to bail out Dynalife. This is the UCP’s reckless experiment in privatization — all the money goes to a private operator, and all the risk lands on Alberta taxpayers and Alberta families.”

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union representing lab workers, called the announcement a good decision to end chaos in testing.

“Our immediate concern is for the dedicated lab professionals serving Albertans that have already been through a chaotic transition to Dynalife and will now transition again. The last thing burnt out and understaffed workers need is more stress,” the HSAA said in a statement on social media.

“At the same time, we are thankful our public health care system is here to step in. Investing in the public laboratory system is in the best interest of Albertans.”

Friends of Medicare, a public health-care advocacy group, lauded the decision but labelled it as the predictable result of poor decision-making.

“Today’s announcement contained no details about the transition from Dynalife back to APL or how much this yearlong debacle will cost our public system,” the group said in a statement.

“This failure must serve as a lesson to this government that we must end these repeated costly, reckless experiments with the privatization of our health-care system and finally start putting patients before profits.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2023.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press


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