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Town of Balcarres, Sask. staff fight to save lab services at primary health centre

Town council are advocating to restore services at the lab at the Balcarres Integrated Health Centre and to replace equipment that was damaged in a November 2021 vehicle collision. Dave Parsons / Global Regina

Staff at the Town of Balcarres, Sask., near Fort Qu’Appelle, are struggling with diminished lab services at their primary care centre.

On Nov. 14, 2021, a vehicle crashed through the wall of the lab at the Balcarres Integrated Health Centre. The collision caused damage to building and equipment, forcing services to be temporarily discontinued.

Although X-ray services resumed at the end of January, samples the lab receives are sent by courier to Regina for processing, or to Fort Qu’Appelle. It makes the turn-around time anywhere from six to 24 hours.

Add to that a shortage of staff, and the service provided is cause for concern, says Kirby Korchinski, Balcarres’ acting mayor.

“Basically, you can come here, have blood drawn, that kind of thing. The challenge we have is there’s only one lab tech. Now, one of the folks retired in that short period of time,” he said.

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“The other lab equipment hasn’t been replaced … The immediate impact is there’s there’s no quick service here.

“There’s no walk-in services. Anything that’s critical, you’re off to Fort Qu’Appelle, Melville, Yorkton or Regina to get lab services,” Korchinski said.

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The Balcarres lab serves the areas of McLeod, Tullyment, Lipton, Abernethy, Lemberg and the four surrounding reserves: Peepeekisis, Okanese, Starblanket and Little Black Bear. Korchinski said the halted lab services impacts those who require health care as well as those who provide it.

“The problem is when it’s something critical, you can’t get service here. Without a lab here, it’s very difficult to attract doctors because they want to be able to order labs and services that they need to treat patients,” said Korchinski. “That means a trip to another facility. It’s not far Fort Qu’Appelle … but it’s not always easy to get those services.”

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Members of Balcarres town council, the community and MLA Travis Keisig met with Lenore Howey, the executive director of Laboratory Medicine end of April. Korchinski said the province was doing a provincial review of all its facilities.

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As for Balcarres’ ongoing insurance claim relating to the car crash, town council received word from Health Minister Everett Hindley’s office on June 3 that all damaged equipment would be replaced at the lab facility within two months. Balcarres town council stated as of Aug. 4 that has yet to happen.

“They provided us with an assurance that this facility would be back providing lab services by the 2nd of August, that the equipment would be on site, and presumably that we’d have staff to staff the facility,” he said.

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Global Regina received an email response from the Minister of Rural and Remote Health which stated they are committed to restoring lab services to Balcarres and that the Saskatchewan Health Authority will be returning lab equipment to the Balcarres Integrated Health Centre.

“Restoring lab services in Balcarres will take some time and will need to be done in a phased approach, as the replacement of equipment, potential retrofitting, and recruitment of the vacant Combined Lab and X-Ray Technician position permit,” Hindley stated.

“I understand the frustration of the community, and that communication should have been better. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the commitment that I have made to Balcarres and the surrounding community.”

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Hindley added that his office has clarified the direction with the SHA so that there is no further confusion going forward.

Korchinski, the town council, community members and neighboring communities are hoping to see their lab restored, and to see some of their acute care services brought back to the Balcarres lab.

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