Retired medical laboratory technologist pens letter to Kenney about the future of lab services

Sandra Simard, a retired Medical Laboratory Technologist, sent the following letter to the office of the Premier on May 6 and shared it with HSAA.

Dear Mr. Jason Kenney,

I am writing to you today to express my concerns around the future of Medical Laboratory Services (Med Lab Services) in Alberta.

I am a retired Medical Laboratory Technologist and for 37 years have worked in many capacities within this healthcare discipline in Alberta. The last 10 years of my career was in the position of North Zone Laboratory Manager.

The direction in which Med Lab Services was heading was a very positive one, in my opinion.

We are a highly technical service that benefits greatly from cohesiveness and collaboration both from a financial perspective as well as a patient quality and safety perspective.

In the last 22 years, there were 3 different occasions when 6000 Med Lab Services personnel in Alberta were gravely impacted by the governing and structural changes imposed by governments. These negatively impacted job security, pensions, efficiency, quality and overall job satisfaction. They also impacted the number of students we were able to educate creating the current personnel deficit. That has all come at a very high cost to our province and to Albertans.

The personnel groups I am referring to are Medical Laboratory Technologists, Medical Laboratory Assistants, Combined Lab/X-Ray Technologists, Diagnostic Cytotechnologists, Pathologists, Clinical Doctoral Scientists, Lab Scientists, Pathology Assistants, Clerical Assistants, Transcriptionists, Coordinators, Management and their assistants. All of these except clerical groups and Medical Lab Assistants fall under Health Professions Act regulations meaning they must do continuing education to maintain certification.

It is clear to me that Med Lab Services is not well understood when statements are made that imply that we are not of value because we don’t directly impact the patients. In fact the opposite is true. We are a support service on which many rely heavily. It should also be noted that Med Lab Services is merely 4% of the entire healthcare budget and we are the only portfolio that is responsible for both community and acute care services.

The following are a few of the crucial services Medical Laboratories provide.

  • 205,000 laboratory tests occur every day in Alberta
  • The majority of all diagnoses are based primarily on Laboratory results
  • All babies born in Alberta have laboratory tests performed to diagnose certain congenital, metabolic and endocrine disorders that would negatively affect the child’s life if not treated urgently
  • Every surgical sample is processed in the laboratory
  • Specialized laboratory testing now plays a major role in early cancer detection and improved patient outcomes
  • Perform drug testing to support mental health patients
  • Testing programs for drug abuse
  • Perform testing on the ever growing numbers of strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria which also keeps the general public safer by monitoring outbreaks
  • Laboratories support nursing teams, EMT and Air Ambulance teams and Respiratory Technologists by ensuring they are properly trained to use Point of Care testing equipment at the patient bedside and ensure the equipment is functioning accurately
  • Laboratories provide Radiology departments with information required for them to accurately perform their duties
  • Laboratories support law enforcement agencies when appropriate and required
  • Pathologists, Medical Microbiologist, Toxicologists and Clinical Doctoral Scientists work in conjunction with Physicians and Specialists to determine diagnoses as well as consult on appropriate courses of treatment

The construction of a super lab is imperative because laboratories are outgrowing their current space, and it would allow the implementation of much needed state of the art technologies and resources that we currently lack in some areas.  It is crucial we maintain high quality standards to produce the best possible patient results to prevent devastating patient outcomes such as those suffered in Newfoundland and more recently in Calgary due to misdiagnoses.

A super lab would also streamline testing to effect cost savings. Construction is already underway and halting or moving it would add a huge cost that we can ill afford.

Med Lab Services in Alberta has been in a holding pattern for the last 8 years. About 8 years ago, a process to secure a private lab to take over most Med Lab Services in Edmonton took about 3 years to complete with an ensuing lawsuit. The new private lab initiative was then halted and we had to wait for the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) report, before we could move forward with the report findings. I wonder how many millions of dollars were spent on finding this new private lab, ensuing legal actions and the HQCA report.

A public and private Medical Laboratory system is not only more costly for Alberta, it is also not as efficient as a fully public or fully private system. From my perspective private labs are primarily focused on performing high volume testing that generates revenue. This leaves the public labs to perform all other more costly and complicated testing. Because of budgetary restraints, the public labs are subsequently not able to maintain the level of technology that is required to provide the best quality results available.

Another reason a private and public system is not ideal is because it duplicates efforts since similar or identical systems need to be in place for both the private lab and the public labs. It would be highly beneficial to implement one system or the other across the whole province to avoid redundancy.

By implementing a public lab system, I have no doubt Med Lab Services could become a source of income for AHS in the future rather than continuing to draw funds from the Province indefinitely. I base this view on the fact that Calgary Lab Services has been operating as a Wholly Owned Subsidiary for the past 10 years with great success. They were able to generate income to sustain and improve themselves. The current Alberta Provincial Laboratory (APL) structure was inspired by their success. The APL system also considered the recommendations of the recent HQCA report that cost over a million Alberta tax payer dollars to produce.

The government could potentially save the healthcare system millions of dollars, and provide Albertans with the care they need and deserve by allowing the APL initiative to proceed. In my view, the government should trust and support the highly qualified healthcare professionals and administrators to do the work for which they have been hired, without periodic structural disruption from governmental reorganization. Structural change is not only counterproductive and expensive it is also demoralizing and disruptive for the 6000 Albertans who work in the Med Lab Services discipline.

Consistently producing quality patient laboratory results, upholding patient safety, and mitigating patient risk are areas I always took seriously as a Med Lab Technologist and I know my colleagues do the same. There is a price for this and if we direct our spending appropriately, it is attainable.

I appreciate your time and hope you will consider the information I have provided.

Kindest regards,

Sandra Simard
Medical Laboratory Technologist from July 1979 – Dec 2017