The Alberta government is taking more medical test appointments in-house starting this weekend to reduce bottlenecks and long waits, particularly in Calgary.
The government-owned Alberta Precision Laboratories is to offer 400 new community testing appointments at the South Health Campus and the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary beginning Saturday.
Another 175 appointments are to open a week after that in Calgary at the Foothills Medical Centre.
The change is part of an arrangement worked out between Alberta Precision Labs and Dynalife, the private provider that handles the bulk of community lab appointments in Alberta.
Alberta Precision Laboratories is part of Alberta Health Services and mainly handles lab tests in hospitals and urgent care centres.
Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said Alberta Precision Laboratories is also working on extending hours, hiring other third-party providers and opening or expanding satellite centres in and around Calgary to add 7,500 appointments per week, which would represent a 25 per cent increase in the area.
“This is an important next step to increasing the number of appointments that are available to Albertans, because we need to ensure that they have timely access to appointments,” LaGrange said Thursday in an interview.
“In the short term, we will provide the necessary appointments that are needed by Albertans, particularly in Calgary and the south area.
“In the long-term, we’ll work towards something where there’s more stability in the system.”
Long wait times
Dynalife has been providing community lab work for more than two decades in northern and central Alberta and went provincewide late last year.
In recent months, there have been concerns over long waits, sometimes weeks, to book appointments in Calgary and the surrounding area.
“As of today, there were waits of upwards of 90 minutes for an appointment that’s already scheduled. That’s unacceptable,” LaGrange said.
“And I’ve heard some really distressing stories on how long it’s taken to get necessary lab work back.
“That impedes the ability for physicians to make diagnoses, and we just can’t have that.”
LaGrange declined to say what she is hearing from Dynalife on why it is struggling to meet targets and benchmarks.
She also declined to comment on the Opposition NDP stating last week that recent lobbying records suggest Dynalife is pitching an option to be bought out by the province.
“Nothing is off the table, as I’ve said, but right now I can’t speak to that,” said LaGrange.
“At this point in time, we want to make sure that we have short-term solutions that we can then work towards long-term stability.”
Concerns over staff burnout
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta said its members have been working overtime and extra time to help fill the gap in lab testing and it has taken a toll.
“Since Dynalife took over community lab services, Albertans have faced unacceptable health impacts, and our members have experienced severe stress from excessive overtime due to the backlog from lack of access to laboratory services,” association president Mike Parker said in a release.
“Without a sustained investment to strengthen the public system to address the gaps caused by for-profit laboratory services, the crisis will worsen as staff burnout spreads.”
NDP health critic Luanne Metz said the announcement is an admission that the United Conservative Party government’s expansion of private lab services has failed.
“While this is an important first step, this is the UCP putting a bandage on the crisis they created,” said Metz.
“(Premier) Danielle Smith and Adriana LaGrange are using public resources to bail out Dynalife and cover for their own failures to deliver what they promised Albertans.”