Steve Geick, president of YEU, is worried about the possibility of microbiology lab work being outsourced to B.C. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Yukon union, hospital corporation dispute implications of new lab contract

YEU says Whitehorse lab slated for closure, YHC says it’s not

The Yukon Employees’ Union is concerned about what it says is a plan to close the microbiology lab at Whitehorse General Hospital in favour of sending samples to a Vancouver hospital.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation, however, says the lab is not closing.

On Feb. 1, the YEU and the Public Service Alliance of Canada North issued a joint press release saying a contract would be in place between WGH and St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver by April 1.

James Low, manager of communications for the YHC, said that’s not the case. He said there was a request for proposals out for lab services to renew an existing contract that was set to expire.

Five proposals came back. Low said St. Paul’s is currently the preferred proponent. The B.C. hospital currently holds the contract being renewed. That contract includes lab medical directorship, lab consulting services, and a specialized lab test.

He said the only new item included in the current RFP is potentially sending routine microbiology tests to B.C.

Low said WGH does 41,000 tests a year and microbiology tests account for roughly 1,500 of those. They could be routine swabs in the case of a sore throat, while more urgent tests could include searching for meningitis.

“To that point, I would stress that it’s only a proposal and we have a lot of work to do to see if this is even the best option for patient care,” said Low, noting a business case study is needed to determine whether choosing St. Paul’s would save money. He said the hospital corporation also needs to understand what the impact would be for human resources in order to determine if it will provide the best services for patients.

Low expects these studies to be done by April.

He said that because nothing is finalized, he can’t speculate how the jobs might change for the four microbiology technicians at WGH.

Steve Geick, president of YEU, said he’s concerned those techs might not be able to maintain competence if they have fewer tests coming through the hospital, though Low said that in dealing only with urgent micro tests, it may be easier to maintain competence as they are a small, specialized sub-set of those tests.

“From my understanding, lab technologists do not have ongoing competency requirements like registered nurses, but they do have education requirements and log a certain number of tests before they conduct these tests independently,” said Low.

Geick said his main concern, though, is the time it’s going to take for results to come back if tests have to go to Vancouver.

Geick said results generally take 24 to 48 hours when tests are done in Whitehorse. He’s concerned that shipping them to Vancouver will double that time, or extend it even further for patients in communities such as Old Crow.

Low said that because the winning RFP would only be handling routine tests, and because St. Paul’s has advanced technology, the turnaround time would remain essentially the same.

He also said the YEU hadn’t contacted the hospital about the issue.

“My wish is that YEU would raise these issues with us cooperatively, maybe talk to us about some of their concerns and maybe we could have a good discussion.”

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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