Algoma residents asked to drive 85 kilometres or more for a blood test

Not everyone may be aware of Thessalon.

The small retirement community is on the north shore of Lake Huron and bills itself as the “gem of Algoma.”

Last October the hospital closed the doors of its medical laboratory to outpatients. This affects a region of about 9,000 people who live to the east of Sault Ste. Marie.

This is not unusual. Thessalon was already an outlier given most hospitals have already closed their doors to outpatient medical laboratory testing. Nobody will say it’s a policy. It just… happened.

At first residents were told that the cut to outpatient lab access was to focus on core hospital services.

I don’t think anyone knows what this means, including the hospital. However, the Sault Area Hospital is in deficit, and lab services come out of the global budget.

It’s not like the lab itself could just close. The hospital still requires it for inpatient services.

And it’s not like North York. When the North York Hospital stopped doing outpatient lab testing a few years ago, patients were told they could literally walk across the street to a private lab facility.

What would happen if North York Hospital told their patients they now had to go to Barrie to get their blood drawn?

That’s the situation residents of Thessalon find themselves in.

There is no alternative lab collection site in town. Thessalon residents instead have to drive 85 kilometres to Sault Ste. Marie. For those on the eastern side of the catchment area, the drive could be as much as two hours to have their blood drawn. This is even though their hospital will still draw blood and do testing for inpatients right in town.

How upset would you be?

In 2008 RPO Consultants were hired by the Ministry of Health to look at 10 small rural hospitals that continued to do community-based lab testing. The hospitals received additional funding to handle these volumes. These hospitals averaged a cost of $22 to perform a typical round of tests. The centralized private labs cost $33 for the same comparable tests. Therefore the hospital labs, performing outpatient work for much less – and much more quickly – would have to stop.

Such an illogical outcome would lead persons to ask questions about such a perverse decision.

According to Ross Sutherland, author of False Positive: Private Profit in Canada’s Medical Laboratories, the Sault hospital said they had to close the lab to outpatients because of conditions set in their laboratory license and provisions in the Public Hospitals Act.

Funny how the hospital had operated this lab for years despite these provisions – provisions which none of us seem capable of finding in either document.

While Thessalon was not among the pilot hospitals in the RPO study, it would be safe to assume residents in the region are being asked to drive 85 kilometres or more AND have their tests cost the public health system more.

Meanwhile, if I were a local resident, I would suddenly find a reason to need to go to my local ER. It’s 85 kilometres nearer, and they do blood tests.

3 responses to “Algoma residents asked to drive 85 kilometres or more for a blood test

  1. Arlene Patterson

    With higher unemployment rates, benefits being slashed and pensions under attack, the disposable income available for these downloaded out of pocket expenses are mounting. I spend approximately $8,000.00 per year on medical and related expenses, out of my fixed income.
    Patients are FORCED to travel greater
    distances, make accommodation arrangements and some circumstances could be described as ‘unsafe'(ie.weather, stamina).
    When a consultant performing an evaluation of an outpatient clinic was questioned about the ‘safety of out of town patients’ having to return to hospital to complete their treatments, due to a policy of NOT paying overtime to RN’s, actually resulted in that policy being over-turned. Patients need to continue to speak up through whatever means are available to them. You will be comforted to know that nurses are on our (patients) side.

  2. The people who make these decisions are either exceedinglystupid or have decided to break the law for profit.
    Isn’t it still illegal to provide for profit services in Ontario?
    Bob Scott, Petrolia ON

  3. Unfortunately perfectly legal and perfectly stupid.

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