Health Minister excludes lab technologists from list of “front line workers”

Health Ministers seldom know much about medical labs. One former health minister told us bluntly that he knew nothing about labs. This lack of knowledge doesn’t appear to prevent them from making bad decisions.

On Tuesday NDP MPP Gilles Bisson asked Health Minister Deb Matthews about the potential closure of provincial labs around the province, including Timmins. Bisson is likely referring to public health labs, given Timmins already has a private lab, Lifelabs, which does community-based lab testing.

Health Minister Deb Matthews replied that there was a review of labs conducted in 2007 by an independent consulting firm to assess the service delivery model when it comes to labs. The report she was likely referring to was the RPO Report, which evaluated a pilot project involving 12 small hospitals who were doing community-based lab testing. The 12 did not include Timmins.

Under the Harris government, lab work was cleaved in two. Hospitals continued to do inpatient lab testing; lab tests ordered outside of a hospital would be done at one of several private labs, such as Lifelabs and Gamma Dynacare. The pilot was intended to use small rural hospitals to do this community lab work, often working with a private sector partner.

The 2008 RPO report showed tremendous advantage in having community lab work done by these hospitals, but then dutifully recommended against it in one of the weakest rationalizations ever to emerge from a health care consulting firm. This, however, has absolutely nothing to do with Timmins and the public health labs.

In her reply to Bisson, the Minister also implied that lab technologists were somehow not front line health care workers. She said: “The people I talk to, when they think of health care, they think of our front-line workers, they think of our doctors, our nurses, our personal support workers; they think of people who actually provide care.”

Bisson correctly replied that lab technologists were front line workers. They are essential partners in the diagnosis process. More than 80 per cent of all diagnosis relies upon a lab test.

The technologists who work at the public health labs are concerned about who may be next to close following the literal demolishing of the Windsor public health lab to make room for a highway. OPSEU fears that the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (OAHPP) is looking to reduce the number of labs it operates around the province. No decisions have yet been made public.

The OAHPP Public Health Laboratories (PHL) provide clinical and environmental laboratory testing, related expert advice and research in support of the prevention and control of infectious diseases and the protection and promotion of the public’s health in Ontario. This is a very different function from the community and hospital-based labs.

The distance between Timmins and the next public health lab would be substantial, creating delays in getting timely lab results. Given the recent history of outbreaks in Ontario, it’s likely the citizens of the north will not be very pleased should this lab close.

The OAHPP claims rationalization will make them more efficient. We have heard this all before. Rationalizing hospitals was supposed to make them more efficient. Instead it increased costs and placed many in significant debt. The private labs were supposed to make community-based testing more efficient, but they cost as much as 50 per cent more per test than when they had been conducted in the hospital.

If the Minister would like to be among the first to really learn something about how labs work, we’d be happy to extend an invitation.

For the record, Bisson asked the Minister to say she would not close the lab in Timmins . She did not.

3 responses to “Health Minister excludes lab technologists from list of “front line workers”

  1. Michelle Brownell

    Since Deb Matthews seems to be so ignorant in regards to what Allied Health Care Professionals actually do, we should educate her before she goes making important decisions that impact us and health care in Ontario. OPSEU’s health care division should request a private meeting with her and educate her on exactly who the other essential “front line” workers are in the hospitals. If a member of the general public made that comment I could excuse them, BUT not the Minister of Health.

  2. I would like to point out that 85% of the “other” front line health care worker’s treatment decisions are dependent on laboratory test results; without medical laboratory technologists and other allied health professionals, doctors and nurses would only be 15% effective.
    The Ontario Public Health laboratories are responsible for testing that isn’t done anywhere else in Ontario, like Rabies, or that is too specialized to be profitable for private laboratories.
    Once the government understands what we do, then they can move on to understanding that we should be paid the same as Hospital Medical Laboratory Technologists as well.

    Dean Wiley, MLT
    Chair OPSEU OAHPP Bargaining Team

  3. I am not suprised that the Health Minister is totally unaware of the roll Lab Technologists have in hospitals. I would love to invite her to visit our lab so she can follow us around to see what kind of work we do. Maybe she could come on a night shift to see what we do when she is usually snuggled in bed fast asleep at home.
    Maybe she could assist the single lone Technologist on duty by answering the phone calls requesting many blood draws stat and urgent requests for blood products for patients who are at risk of bleeding out. I wonder if she is handy at troubleshooting lab analyzers? Maybe she could help us clone ourself so we can be in 5 places at once and not screw anything up in the process.
    Another thought maybe she can visit now and then again in Feb 2011 when the night shift will no longer exist (cut backs) and nurses will be doing POCT with the lab taking call for the “highly technical testing.” She can then see the technologist working all day then being called back all night then showing up for work the next day in a daze from lack of sleep. And last but not least maybe she can work with the OHA to then deny the tired, stressed out technologist her call back pay because she thinks we make too much while she is snuggled in her warm bed at home.

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