In a reversal, the provincial government is now de-privatizing medical laboratory services to reduce the wait times for blood work and other tests.
Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange admitted on Friday in Red Deer that the government’s controversial experiment with privatizing lab services didn’t work out as planned.
Community lab work across the province will now be shifted back to Alberta Precision Laboratories — which is under the control of Alberta Health Services — instead of the for-profit private company DynaLIFE, which the government contracted to provide these services as of July 1, 2022.
“Albertans expect and deserve a world-class health system,” instead of having to endure long waits and delays for common tests, said the minister and MLA for Red Deer North at a press conference at Red Deer Polytechnic.
An agreement in principle has been reached with ownership of DynaLIFE to transfer staff, equipment and property in all regions of the province to Alberta Precision Laboratories. The full transition is expected to be completed by December.
LaGrange said she couldn’t comment yet on the cost of this transition as final details are still being worked out.
She assured Albertans they will continue to get their blood work and other lab testing done at the same locations during this transition and additional appointments will be added as needed.
“This change is an important step to improve and grow lab services, and ensure Albertans have reliable and speedy access to lab testing in their communities, particularly to enable timely diagnosis and treatment,” added LaGrange. She went on to say she appreciates the efforts of lab workers to meet the health needs of Albertans “during the transition and beyond.”
Last year, health advocates, including Friends of Medicare had decried the privatization of community lab services by former Health Minister Jason Copping. Copping claimed that contracting community lab services to DynaLIFE would give Albertans better access to high-quality community lab services, while generating cost savings that could be reinvested into other health services.
“DynaLIFE has a proven history of providing innovative lab services and Albertans can be assured they are getting the best care possible,” stated Jason Copping at the end of last year. Alberta Precision Laboratories continued to provide in-hospital lab tests.
However, LaGrange admitted this week that the government’s hopes for privatizing the service with DynaLIFE fell short of expectations — leaving the Friend of Medicare calling on the government to take full responsibility for this failure.
While DynaLIFE was very capable in providing good lab services when it served Albertans living in the Edmonton area, LaGrange said there was a deterioration of laboratory services, turn-over and wait times when the company’s role was expanded to serve Calgary and other centres.
Albertans must be able to get the lab tests they need, when they need them, said Grange, whose mandate letter from Premier Danielle Smith included resolving unacceptable lab service delays.
Alberta Precision Laboratories has already been stepping in since Aug. 3 to provide thousands of additional community lab appointments in Calgary, significantly reducing wait times in that centre. However, LaGrange said it’s clear more needs to be done and her government is now taking action.
The New Democrat opposition blamed the UCP government for the “dangerous mismanagement” of lab services for Albertans.
“This is pure incompetence,” said NDP health critic Luanne Metz, who noted the UCP “destroyed Alberta’s publicly owned lab system in 2019,” and privatized the system by contracting with DynaLIFE.
“Now that public lab has to bail out DynaLIFE. This is the UCP’s reckless experiment in privatization… all the risk lands on Alberta taxpayers.”
Meanwhile, Mauro Chies, president and CEO, Alberta Health Services, said his focus will remain “on patients and ensuring the safety, accessibility and stability of lab services.
“We understand and appreciate the challenges that some Albertans have faced with lab services in recent months and we are dedicated to addressing these concerns. We thank all DynaLIFE team members for their continued commitment. We respect their insight and will work closely with them to incorporate feedback and support their transition to Alberta Precision Laboratories.”