NB mulls reducing labs by half
January 8, 2020
FREDERICTON, N.B. – The New Brunswick government is looking at ways to centralize hospital laboratories, including a proposal that would see the number of facilities slashed by more than half. A request for proposals in November is aimed at finding private-sector management consultants who can develop a plan to consolidate 20 hospital labs into as few as seven.
The rationale for closures and centralization, CBC News reported, is not saving money but responding to a “human resource crisis” that will see 40 percent of medical laboratory technologists eligible for retirement in the next five years.
“Current supply is not able to keep up with attrition rate due to retirement,” the document says. “Concerns are also being raised as to the significant knowledge gap resulting from these retirements.”
The document refers back to a 2013 report that “identified opportunities for improvement through reorganization.”
That report, obtained by CBC News through a right-to-information request, recommended the closure of labs in smaller hospitals and health centres in Miramichi, Saint John, Waterville, St. Stephen, Sussex, Oromocto, Sackville, Minto, Plaster Rock, Grand Falls, Saint-Quentin, Dalhousie, Caraquet, Lameque and Tracadie.
Those services would be “integrated” into labs in seven larger hospitals in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Edmundston, Campbellton and Bathurst, the report said.
Health Minister Ted Flemming (pictured) was not available to comment on the request for proposals, which had a Jan. 7 deadline.
But in a November scrum about the temporary closure of some patient services at the Campbellton hospital, Flemming cited laboratories as a service that could be centralized without affecting patient care, possibly with just two provincial labs.
“If you go to a facility and you have your blood taken, what you want to know is your cholesterol and your blood sugar and the usual things that they do,” he said. “What does it matter that that isn’t done in one or two centralized areas, one in Vitalité and one in Horizon, for example?
“This doesn’t impact care. This doesn’t compromise anything. We have an extremely efficient courier system so why do we need 20 labs with 20 people figuring out what people’s cholesterol is?”
Meanwhile, the union representing more than 400 lab technologists said it is relieved the province hasn’t opted for privatization and said it won’t necessarily oppose the consolidation.
“We were kind of in favour of that versus the privatization as long as it wasn’t disruptive to the workers,” said president Susie Proulx-Daigle, adding some lab samples already move between hospitals for specialized testing.
She said her goal will be to ensure no lab employees are laid off or forced to move to another location while the plan is put in place.
“If they’re going to do a change, as long as it benefits everybody, and it’s good for the public, the consumer, the people who need the service, then we’re going to work with them to try to make sure that it works,” she said.
She warned though that consolidation will only be a temporary solution and that the same recruitment issue will rear its head again after consolidation. “This will only work for a few years,” she said.
The RFP says developing an implementation plan would take a year and putting it into effect would take another two years.
It says consolidation will require greater “collaboration and interconnectivity” within the two regional health authorities and between them.
Their labs now use eight different health and lab information systems with “minimal communication and inconsistent definitions and nomenclature.” Part of the consulting firm’s job will be to address and develop a new transportation system for moving samples.