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LifeLabs to close 15 patient service centres

Sue PaishTORONTO – Ontario’s largest medical laboratory company is laying-off more than 100 staff and closing 15 patient service centres that collect and process patient samples such as blood and urine.

The Toronto Star reports that LifeLabs also plans to reduce the hours of operations at 53 other collection sites. Laboratory testing facilities in Thorold, London and Ottawa – where samples are analyzed – will close.

“While these kinds of operational decisions are never easy, we believe they are necessary,” LifeLabs CEO Sue Paish (pictured) wrote on the company’s website. Most of the closures will take place in March and April.

In an interview with the Star, Paish said the changes are part of an efficiency effort to cope with mounting costs, cutbacks in government funds and a higher volume of patients.

“The demand for testing has increased but the funding has not,” she said, adding the company performs 5.5 per cent more tests than it did three years ago. Further, she said, LifeLab’s competitors are also cutting back.

The private company manages hundreds of medical laboratories in Ontario and British Columbia. According to its website, it performs more than 75 million clinical tests in Ontario alone each year.

The announcements come less than three years after the company’s $1.2 billion takeover of Mississauga-based CML Healthcare Inc. in 2013. The merger gave LifeLabs a major foothold in Ontario’s outpatient lab testing market.

A group of owner-operated medical laboratories called the Ontario Coalition for Lab Reform opposed the amalgamation. It argued the combined company’s size would dominate the province’s medical testing business.

The group’s spokesperson, former MP and MPP Gerard Kennedy, CEO of competing firm Alpha Healthcare, predicted in July 2013 that the “mega-lab” merger would likely result in lab closures.

LifeLabs pledged it wouldn’t happen.

In an August 2013 letter to the Ontario Society of Medical Technologists, Paish wrote that Lifelabs “will not close any patient service centres or any patient access points as a result of the proposed merger with CML.”

A LifeLabs spokesperson confirmed Friday that roughly half the 15 patient service centres slated to close were former CML facilities, but Paish maintained the company “has absolutely stayed true to (its) commitment.”

“Our decision was not based in any way shape or form on the CML acquisition,” she said.

The laboratory sector needs a “reboot,” said Kennedy, who added LifeLabs’ move is an example of how patients’ health services can be “restricted by the needs of large private corporations.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins said “the government continues to take steps to improve value, access and utilization of laboratory services across the province.”

Hoskins appointed an expert panel review of Ontario labs last summer. Published last November, the panel’s report found the medical laboratory industry’s status quo was “not sustainable.”

Flagging the sector’s lack of market competition and “inadequate” government oversight, the panel wrote that “the imperative for change in Ontario’s laboratory sector is now pressing.”

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