Consolidation risky: union

Restricting pap smear analysis to only two labs in Alberta carries possible risks, says the union representing lab technologists who will lose their jobs at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Restricting pap smear analysis to only two labs in Alberta carries possible risks, says the union representing lab technologists who will lose their jobs at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Last week, Alberta Health Services informed gynecological cytology labs at Red Deer and Lethbridge hospitals that their bids to become provincial labs were rejected in favour of Calgary Laboratory Services and DynaLIFE Dx in Edmonton.

A total of 17 cytotechnologists and lab assistants around the province will lose their jobs in September.

Some may find work at the Calgary or Edmonton labs but nothing has been determined.

Elisabeth Ballermann, president of Health Sciences Association of Alberta, is worried about the impact of an increasing workload.

Cytotechnologists at the Calgary lab are already expected to process 85 pap smears per day, which gives them a little more than five minutes for each test, she said.

“The workloads have been stressful for a long time now, we don’t see how this is going to help,” Ballerman said on Wednesday. “We’ve seen some awful tragedies in other parts of the country where workload has been cited as a factor, not necessarily the only factor.”

And what happens if one of the two remaining labs shuts down because of a problem with equipment or an electrical outage? What if a flu bug sweeps through and sends these specialized technologists home sick or there are equipment errors, Ballerman asked.

“If one site goes down for whatever reason, immediately half the testing in the province goes.”

In a June 11 memo to Red Deer doctors, Alberta Health Services says the consolidation of gynecological cytology was made with “great consideration for the importance of appropriate and safe transportation of specimens for testing as well as ensuring timely lab results.”

The Calgary and Edmonton labs were said to have “comprehensive logistical and transportation networks.”

Ballerman said for every additional step in the system to transport specimens, “common sense would suggest that is another potential for error.”

According to the memo, Alberta’s new provincewide system, that replaced nine regional health care authorities, will consolidate cytology for three reasons — “it is fiscally responsible in terms of technology, it ensures consistent standard of patient care and it provides equitable access for all Albertans.”

Public health care defenders are calling the consolidation a move towards privatization in Alberta.

Ballerman said the concentrated level of control in Alberta over health care is “unprecedented.” Saving money is a legitimate issue, but not at the expense of patient care and if it means treating staff in a “brutal and off-hand manner.”

“I think we ought to be look at where this is leading us down the road.”

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