‘Welcome to private health care’: Calgarians experience delays at community labs

Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services apologizes for long wait times at Calgary labs'
Alberta Health Services apologizes for long wait times at Calgary labs
A recent change to lab services is causing headaches for some, as a number of Calgary patients report lengthy wait times. As Adam MacVicar reports, the issues relate to Alberta Health Services transitioning to DynaLIFE for its community lab services. – Jan 3, 2023

A routine trip to get some bloodwork done has turned into a long wait for Calgarians.

Michelle Archer needs monthly tests done to monitor her autoimmune diseases and usually faces a 10- to 30-minute wait for a walk-in visit at the Ranchlands clinic now operated by Dynalife.

“This time when I got there, the parking lot was full and there were people standing outside the door and I was shocked to see many people there,” Archer said. “It was so crowded. It took me forever to get to the desk.”

After finally checking in with the front desk, Archer waited an hour to be called in from the waiting area and another hour to get her tests done.

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“So I asked at the desk, ‘What’s happening here this morning?’ She said, ‘Welcome to private health care.’

“And she said that to every patient that came up.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton doctors prepare to help Stollery during surge'
Edmonton doctors prepare to help Stollery during surge

On Dec. 5, 2022, the province announced community lab services in large urban centres would transition to Dynalife from Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL). Dynalife also received the contract to do some testing from hospitals provincewide, but APL’s in-hospital labs would continue to do tests.

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“Dynalife has a proven history of providing innovative lab services and Albertans can be assured they are getting the best care possible,” Health Minister Jason Copping said at the time of the announcement.

At the same time, a new appointment booking system was rolled out. AHS says wrinkles in the new system are still being worked out.

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“The new system experienced some network disruptions over the first few days, causing longer than average wait times at some community collection locations,” AHS said in a statement. “As Calgary staff and system users continue to adapt to the new appointment system, wait times continue to improve towards pretransition levels.”

The provincial health authority said the holiday season also saw longer wait times at some locations.

“There were no negative impacts for routine processing or resulting for community blood work,” AHS noted.

“We apologize to those having to experience longer wait times at community labs and are working with Dynalife to do what we can to improve this.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta expands contract with private lab services company DynaLIFE'
Alberta expands contract with private lab services company DynaLIFE

Lorian Hardcastle, an assistant professor in health law at the University of Calgary, said Dynalife’s for-profit model is reason to question whether the company is curtailing staffing or hours.

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Dynalife did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.

“Ideally we wouldn’t have felt the change at all. Ideally, the government would have worked with Dynalife to ensure that the transition was smooth and was unfelt by the public,” Hardcastle said. “But unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

She said since taxpayer dollars are involved in the Dynalife contract, the government should “hold their feet to the fire.”

“If the public is sitting in wait rooms and not able to make appointments and is having trouble accessing services, the government needs to be accountable for that and needs to be transparent about what’s causing that problem and how they’re working with Dynalife to fix that problem,” Hardcastle said.

With the essential and potentially life-saving service labs and testing can provide in the community and for primary care physicians, Hardcastle said efficient lab services can help keep people out of already-stressed hospitals.

“The last thing that we need is for people to show up in hospital because their conditions weren’t being adequately managed in the community,” the U of C professor said.

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Archer said she’s known the staff at her local community lab for years. But the most recent visit was different.

“Staff was obviously overwhelmed. They were agitated, not angry, but overwhelmed, flustered, running around. There was a ton of staff, but it was chaos.”

AHS said community lab services have been transitioned to Dynalife in Okotoks, Strathmore, Red Deer, Leduc, Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Fort MacMurray, with additional ones coming to Lethbridge and Calgary.

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