Last month, the Yukon Hospital Corp. put out a news release to “correct some misinformation being shared with Yukoners.”
The microbiology lab at Whitehorse General Hospital was not slated for closure, the release assured.
That was contrary to what a Feb. 1 Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU)/Public Service Alliance of Canada North (PSAC North) press release suggested.
But the YEU is still asking questions about a proposal the hospital corporation is currently considering, that could see all non-urgent microbiology tests outsourced from Whitehorse General to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
In a press release issued last Thursday, the YEU again raised concerns that the proposal, if accepted, could leave Yukoners waiting longer for testing, diagnosis and treatment – a suggestion the hospital corporation refuted in February.
“The hospital corporation has promoted keeping health care in the Yukon close to home; increasing capacity, modernizing and reducing the volume of exported care,” the union also pointed out.
“Choosing to export this routine work out of territory is like stepping back in time.”
Further, the release also suggested the hospital corporation provided inaccurate numbers when this story was first reported in February.
Cam Heke, a spokesperson for the hospital corporation, confirmed to the Star that a mistake was indeed made in the numbers provided to the media.
However, the hospital corporation’s core message remains consistent: microbiology makes up a small proportion of overall lab services at Whitehorse General and patient care will be at the forefront of the hospital corporation’s decision to outsource, or not, non-urgent microbiology tests to Vancouver.
In February, it was reported that of the approximately 41,000 lab tests completed at Whitehorse General every year, about 1,500, or 3.7 per cent, are microbiology tests.
Of those 1,500, about 80 per cent are non-urgent, or routine, microbiology tests, Heke said at the time.
In actuality, 450,000 lab tests are completed annually at Whitehorse General.
Of those, 21,000 are microbiology tests, or 4.7 per cent.
About 80 per cent, or 17,000, of those microbiology tests are non-urgent, and would be sent to St. Paul’s under the proposal.
Heke apologized for the error.
He explained that spokespeople were mistakenly provided an approximate monthly figure, rather than an annual one.
He also added that at present, 5,000 non-urgent microbiology tests are already being sent to St. Paul’s.
The hospital corporation has an existing contract with the Vancouver hospital that includes a number of different lab services, including the outsourcing of some lab tests.
It’s this contract’s impending expiration that prompted the hospital corporation to issue a request for proposal (RFP) to which St. Paul’s responded.
It’s now the preferred proposal of two under review, Heke said.
In sum, the St. Paul’s proposal would see another 12,000 non-urgent microbiology tests, or 2.7 per cent of all Whitehorse General lab tests, sent to St. Paul’s.
The option is being explored, Heke said, “in an effort to ensure we are improving the quality and sustainability of patient services here in the Yukon.”
He pointed out that the outsourcing would bring all non-urgent microbiology testing to a “more robust lab.”
“This is a common and normal consolidation that’s happening in many places across Canada,” he said, and the hospital corporation has to do its “due diligence” in considering the option.
The proposal is being reviewed by a selection evaluation committee that includes an executive director, a director and a manager of lab services, a physician at Whitehorse General, and a front-line, unionized lab employee, according to Heke.
There are four microbiology technologists who currently work in the lab.
While Heke said it’s too early to make any commitments regarding how their employment might be affected if the St. Paul’s proposal is accepted, these technologists are permitted to work in other lab service areas at Whitehorse General, and “there’s lots of work.”
According to the YEU, the union has been assured “no members will lose their jobs, but will be shuffled into other positions.
“We are not raising this flag because we are concerned about the loss of union jobs, but because we are worried about protecting the services we all rely on,” the YEU states in the March 1 press release.
Heke countered this concern by stating of the potential microbiology testing changes, “there will be no negative impact on the quality of patient care. Decisions will be based on Yukon Hospital Corporation’s ability to provide quality and timely patient care.”
A decision on the St. Paul’s contract will be made by the end of the month, Heke said, as the current contract is set to expire March 31.