Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With community laboratory services poised to be taken over by private company DynaLife, many have expressed concerns about loss of service or employment for public healthcare workers.
DynaLife has been providing laboratory services in the Alberta Health Services North Zone for many years, but will be replacing Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL), a subsidiary of AHS, in communities across the province later this year.
The change doesn’t come as a surprise, said David Shepherd, Health Critic for the Alberta NDP.
“Even before Jason Kenney was elected, he was very clear that he wanted to make more room for private profit in the midst of our public health care system. … So we’re definitely concerned that what we’re going to see out of this now is potentially higher costs and longer wait times for Albertans,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd recalled previous privatization of laboratories in the Calgary area, which ultimately had to be brought back into the public system due to poor service and raised costs when a monopoly was formed.
“We really need to see some transparency and accountability from Jason Kenney and the UCP. Certainly, again, we are not in favour of this plan,” said Shepherd. “But if the government is going to drive ahead with it, then they should be providing all of the details of this contractor’s intentions to Albertans so that they can judge for themselves, understand what impact this may have for them and what the costs are going to be to the public.”
These concerns are shared by Public Interest Alberta, said Executive Director Bradley Lafortune, who says that there hasn’t been evidence provided to show that this change will result in improvements in quality of service, and that this is a pattern seen with the province that usually results in loss of service, a sentiment shared by Friends of Medicare Medicine Hat Chapter Chair Diane MacNaughton.
“We’re concerned about massive system changes in the middle of a pandemic. Certainly, I think that what we need to see right now is the bolstering of existing public laboratory services and support for health care work workers across the system, not systemic changes to the delivery and provision of these services at this time, especially not right now,” said Lafortune.
Despite the changes and the privatization of laboratory services, however, many Albertas shouldn’t notice much of a difference, said Tammy Hofer, the chief operating officer of Alberta Precision Laboratories. While DynaLife will be taking over in larger centres, such as Lethbridge and Medicine Hat which sees over 25,000 blood collections a year, APL will continue to offer services in rural centres and hospitals.
“The rural communities in the South Zone as really we’ll see very very little impact to this where APL will continue to be in the community, will continue to collect the blood and what we don’t do on site, we’ll continue to ship the blood out of the community,” said Hofer. “.from the interface with the patient, the change they’ll see is the company collecting their blood, and maybe later down the road, the tools to get your appointment booking. But actually right now we are using DynaLife’s appointment system to actually book our appointments. So there’s probably going to be very little change. In Lethbridge, there you’re going to see improvements almost immediately. Finally we’ll be building community patient service centres there. Today in Lethbridge we’re really underserved, we’ve been working primarily out of the hospital in Lethbridge for our community collection work and we’ve had other small locations that have had to close because the physician offices have actually closed.”
APL workers who would be affected by the change will also not wake to find themselves lacking employment, said Hofer, as when the contract goes into effect on July 1st, DynaLife has agreed to take on these employees where APL “can afford to give them up.”
“Those employees of APL on July 1st, their employees will be DynaLife. Their collective agreements will go with them, we are keeping them on same or similar terms and conditions, they will stay unionized. But they will have a different employer,” said Hofer.
While consolidation may occur, Hofer is confident that there are sufficient openings within the system to address the issue.
“We’ve got open postings, and are really trying to keep the staff and the communities,” said Hofer. :So, this privatization that we’re referencing and the ability to consolidate some of the testing itself, the transport and, and testing of the samples, hopefully, is going to free up some staff to fill those vacancies that we’re struggling with so much in, in our rural communities.”
Hofer also notes that this will not be an overnight change, but a transition that takes time to enact. They expect to be working to make this as seamless for staff as possible, as to best be attentive to the questions of both staff and patients.