Community lab services will be going back to Alberta’s provincial labs, less than a year after Dynalife Medical Labs expanded its community lab services beyond the Edmonton region.
Friday in Red Deer, Health Minister Adriana LaGrange announced an agreement in principle had been signed to sell all of Dynalife’s staff, equipment, operations and property in Alberta to AHS and AHS-owned Alberta Precision Labs (APL) by the end of the year.
“This will bring immediate and consistent support throughout the province,” she said.
“Everyone will work together to plan for a successful and smooth transition of lab services to Alberta Precision Labs, or APL, to stabilize our lab system.”
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LaGrange said a final dollar number was still in negotiations with OMERS, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, and North Carolina-based Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp), and final details on the AHS contracts are still being worked out.
“As we move forward, we will be able to make that readily available to the public. We want to be transparent,” she said.
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Earlier this month, APL added “hundreds of new appointments” in the Calgary area after AHS and Dynalife recognized they needed help with the backlog.
The health minister said there should be “no significant change” to how Albertans access lab services during the transition.
“You will still go to the same facilities you go to today. You will still book appointments through the same system you use today. Existing appointments you have already booked will not be impacted and you will still see the same frontline staff you see today,” LaGrange said, noting there will be no job losses to frontline staff.
LaGrange said APL is also planning to expand community appointments through the hospital lab system, including the hiring of new staff, to help bring wait times down.
“They will also be working with other partners to open a new community patient service centre in Calgary this fall.”
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Dynalife had already been providing lab services in Edmonton and several communities in the AHS North Zone for more than 25 years and, in January 2022, an agreement was signed for it to expand to the rest of Alberta.
In December 2022, Dynalife took over community lab services for the rest of Alberta.
Since Dynalife took over AHS contracts in Calgary and the South Zone, Albertans complained they were waiting weeks for lab appointments and results that were then used for medical decisions and treatments.
LaGrange recognized it was when Dynalife took over the Calgary and South contracts that wait times went up, and said waiting weeks was “just not right and it is not acceptable.”
The vice president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), which represents 4,150 APL workers and 2,533 Dynalife workers, said she was surprised at the scope of the announcement.
“We would like to commend the government for making the difficult decision to reverse the course that they were taking with the privatization of lab services and taking the approach that they are,” Leanne Alfaro told Global News.
But the HSAA has concerns about the added stress their members will have to face during yet another transition.
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“There’s transition into Calgary Lab Services, then into Alberta Public Laboratories, which then switched to Alberta Precision Laboratories and to Dynalife, as recent as December last year. And now they’re transitioning back,” Alfaro said.
“Our members have been working short-staffed continuously for far too long. The rates of exhaustion, the stress, the pressure is continual. So the ideal situation is to decrease those workloads, recruit, train, retain the staff we have that could be able to train new staff that are coming in. So then those workloads are manageable, which leads to the best services provided for Albertans.”
The president of CUPE Local 8, which represents drivers who transport lab samples across southern Alberta for Dynalife, also expressed concerns for those workers who have been through the same change in employers.
“These drivers are providing a life-saving services to Albertans as they transport vital lab samples across southern Alberta,” Kelly Spence said in a statement. “They are simply trying to do their jobs, and they don’t deserve the chaos they’ve been put through by the government.”
CUPE Alberta president Rory Gill called Friday’s announcement a “victory for public health care and a serious indictment of experiments in privatizing our public services.”
“When politicians turn our health care system into a profit-making venture for corporations, they spend as little as possible on front-line services to ensure their shareholders make money,” Gill said in a statement. “Lab services are returning to where they belong—under the umbrella of public health care.”
The Opposition’s critic for emergency and surgical care said the “incompetent handling of lab services has put Albertans in danger.”
“Dynalife is the provider selected by the UCP after they destroyed Alberta’s publicly owned lab system in 2019 and embarked on a three-year dedicated drive to privatize its crucial work. Now that public lab has to bail out Dynalife,” Calgary-Varsity MLA Luanne Metz said in a statement.
“This is the UCP’s reckless experiment in privatization: all the money goes to a private operator, and all the risk lands on Alberta taxpayers and Alberta families.”
Last year, the province said approximately 65 per cent of provincial lab work — or 50 million tests per year — comes from people in the community going for testing.
While Dynalife took over community lab services in larger communities, APL continued to providing lab services inside acute care hospitals, along with smaller hospitals and community health sites that handle less than 25,000 community blood test collections per year.
—with files from Karen Bartko, Global News
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