A private laboratory service provider already operating in the Edmonton region will soon begin collecting blood, urine and other samples across the rest of Alberta.
Alberta Health Services and Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) have reached an agreement on terms of a contract for DynaLIFE Medical Labs to deliver community laboratory services across the province.
DynaLIFE has provided lab services in Edmonton and several communities in the AHS North zone for more than 25 years.
AHS said the company will continue that work, expanding to more cities and towns across the rest of the province under a new contract that will begin on July 1.
Approximately 65 per cent of provincial lab work — or 50-million tests per year — comes from people in the community going for testing. Those medical procedures will be delivered by DynaLIFE, AHS said.
The contract will include operating patient service and mobile collection centres in large communities, including Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Brooks, Lloydminster, Camrose, Airdrie, Cochrane, Okotoks, Strathmore, Leduc, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, St. Albert and Stony Plain.
The agreement will also see DynaLIFE invest in significant upgrades and expansion of patient service centres in communities including Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie.
AHS said DynaLIFE will also invest in much-needed improvements to leased hub lab facilities in Calgary and Edmonton.
DynaLIFE will also be responsible for laboratory testing of all community and non-urgent hospital lab work across the province.
Another step towards privatization: Friends of Medicare, Public Interest Alberta
Several advocacy groups slammed the move on Friday. Friends of Medicare called it an attack on the public health-care system.
It said years of health-care systems cuts and refusal to make much-needed infrastructure and equipment upgrades have left Alberta with a crumbling lab system.
“They’ve neglected our medical labs to the point of disrepair, and now they’re offering privatization as the only solution, with absolutely no evidence that this stands to benefit the people of this province,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare.
“Rather than investing in our public system in the interest of all Albertans, the government has opted to shirk their responsibility to provide quality health services, instead leaving it in the hands of a private, for-profit company.”
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Friends of Medicare said the DynaLIFE contract is the latest in a series of moves to privatize Alberta’s health-care system, citing the plan released in the fall of 2020 to cut up to 11,000 jobs to save $600 million per year. Outsourcing laundry and lab services was part of that plan.
Public Interest Alberta also said the move is a clear sign of the UCP government’s “ideological privatization agenda.”
“The UCP have shown time after time that even during a pandemic they are willing to put critical services at risk,” said executive director Bradley Lafortune.
“It’s never responsible, from a service delivery or fiscal point of view, to introduce profit into our health care, and when we are facing capacity and stability strains, it’s downright dangerous.”
APL to continue lab services in small communities, acute care hospitals
AHS said in order to ensure small, rural and remote communities continue to receive the service they need, smaller hospitals and community health sites that currently handle less than 25,000 community blood test collections per year will continue to be provided by APL.
APL will also continue providing lab services inside acute care hospitals, along with specialized lab testing, research and innovation that is critical to Alberta’s provincial lab system, “such as the COVID-19 testing program that has been a pillar of our pandemic response.”
“Alberta Precision Laboratories will play a key role in ensuring all quality and service-level requirements in the contract are being met by DynaLIFE,” said Mauro Chies, AHS’ vice-president of cancer care and clinical support services.
Many different plans for Alberta lab services over past decade
Lab services, which in 2019 cost the government $768 million a year, are currently delivered under a patchwork of public and private testing agencies.
The previous NDP government wanted to put all laboratory services under the control of one agency — to be called Alberta Public Laboratories — which would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of AHS.
Under that NDP plan, all lab testing would be funnelled through two major hubs by 2022: an Edmonton superlab and a facility at Calgary Cancer Centre.
At that time, Jason Kenney said it would be a bureaucratic “boondoggle” to reorganize lab tests that were already handled effectively by the private sector.
He said the UCP would revisit the entire plan to put all laboratory services under government control, and after being elected premier halted construction of a $590-million superlab near the University of Alberta south campus, just west of 113 Street, in south Edmonton.
A previous Progressive Conservative government entered into negotiations with Australian company Sonic Healthcare to provide lab services in Edmonton and northern Alberta in October 2014.
That move was successfully appealed by DynaLIFE, when a panel determined AHS breached its duty of procedural fairness in the request-for-proposal process.
DynaLIFE is currently operating in the Edmonton region and northern Alberta under a five-year contract with the province, that was set to expire in March 2022. After that, the former NDP government had planned to buy out the company for $50 million — but Kenney scrapped that deal too.
DynaLIFE deal expected to save money
On Thursday, AHS said DynaLIFE was selected as the preferred private-sector partner to provide expanded community lab service through a competitive request-for-proposals (RFP) process and subsequent negotiations that took place throughout 2021.
“We are proud and very excited to build on our experience serving Albertans,” said DynaLIFE president and CEO Jason Pincock.
“We look forward to working with AHS and APL on our plans that include much-needed upgrades and expansion of patient service centres and laboratory testing facilities in many of Alberta’s largest and fastest-growing communities.”
Health Minister Jason Copping said contracting community lab services to DynaLIFE is expected to save money that can be used to support other priorities and services across the health-care system.
“Partnering with DynaLIFE is an innovative solution that will build upon the success of Alberta’s provincially-integrated lab system, which has proven to be one of the best of its kind in North America and is critical to providing high-quality patient diagnosis and treatment across the health-care spectrum,” he said in a statement.
The news release sent Thursday did not say what kind of savings would be found with the switch.
AHS said final contract negotiations and detailed planning will now begin to ensure a smooth transition of staff and facilities from APL to DynaLIFE, starting on July 1.
No job losses are anticipated as a result of the transition process, AHS said.
DynaLIFE has agreed to assume all unionized, non-unionized and medical-scientific staff under existing collective agreements (where applicable) and provide the same, or similar, terms and conditions of employment as existing prior to the transfer.
Global News has reached out to the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents many lab workers in the province, for comment. As of publishing, a response had not been received.