Whitehorse Daily Star

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Jason Bilsky

YHC eyes contracting out testing

The Yukon Hospital Corp. (YHC) is considering a contract with St. Paul’s Hospital that could see the majority of the territory’s microbiology testing outsourced from Whitehorse General Hospital (WGH) to the Vancouver facility.

By Taylor Blewett on February 2, 2018

The Yukon Hospital Corp. (YHC) is considering a contract with St. Paul’s Hospital that could see the majority of the territory’s microbiology testing outsourced from Whitehorse General Hospital (WGH) to the Vancouver facility.

In a joint press release with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North, the Yukon Employees’ Union announced Thursday that it had learned, by accident, that Whitehorse General is planning to phase out and eventually close its microbiology lab, contracting out testing to St. Paul’s.

This is not the case, according to Cam Heke, a YHC spokesperson.

He confirmed this morning that the corporation is looking at a new contract with St. Paul’s for microbiology testing – but only for routine tests, which make up about 80 per cent of Whitehorse General’s microbiology testing.

The remaining 20 per cent are urgent tests, which Heke said the hospital corporation has no plans to stop doing in-house.

It already has a pre-existing contract with St. Paul’s for lab services, Heke explained.

That contract is set to expire March 31, prompting the hospital corporation to put out a request for proposals for lab services.

Two proposals have since been shortlisted and are under consideration, the leading one being St. Paul’s, Heke said.

If accepted, it would see about 20 microbiology samples sent to Vancouver for routine testing and five urgent microbiology tests done in Whitehorse every week.

“This is being reviewed, nothing’s finalized,” Heke said of the proposal.

“Why is the hospital pursuing this course of action?” the YEU/PSAC press release questions.

“The union believes it is a cost savings measure, and an effort to bolster its consistently under staffed general lab.

“The staff from microbiology will be re-purposed, solving a chronic staffing issue.”

Jack Bourassa, regional executive vice-president of PSAC North, told the Star today the potential outsourcing worries him greatly.

“This contracting-out stuff is a flu entirely onto itself that is catching on. Historically, we know this kind of stuff just doesn’t work out very well,” Bourassa said.

Heke said it’s too early to speculate as to how this contract, if accepted, might affect staffing at Whitehorse General.

“The key driver in all of this is just making sure that we’re providing the best patient care possible.”

The YEU/PSAC North press release flags several concerns.

Those include longer wait times for microbiology samples to be sent to Vancouver and for paper results to arrive back in the territory.

“Microbiology tests currently performed at the Whitehorse General Hospital include throat swabs, urine cultures and wound swabs,” the statement reads.

“These tests take 24-48 hours to complete locally. The tests will take the same amount of time anywhere, but Yukoners will be expected to wait an additional 24-48 hours for samples to be shipped south, and just as long for paper results to be sent back to doctors.”

This just wouldn’t be the case, Heke said.

Microbiology test results would not be sent back to the territory in hard copy form, but rather by fax, by phone, electronically or a combination of the three.

And while the samples would have to be sent to Vancouver, “there is a potential this could actually slightly reduce the time to have the testing done,” Heke said.

St. Paul’s offers a “more robust” microbiology lab, he explained, with better equipment and greater expertise than what is offered in Whitehorse.

“And so, being able to lean on them to help out in this area – ultimately we’re looking at doing that with a view to improving patient care as much as possible, as we’re always doing.”

As for privacy concerns – which YEU/PSAC also raised – the hospital already has an established system with St. Paul’s for other lab testing to ensure patient privacy, Heke said.

Jason Bilsky, the hospital corporation’s CEO, released a statement this afternoon, reiterating much of the information Heke shared with Star.

“It is important to correct some misinformation being shared with Yukoners.

“WGH’s lab is not closing and there are no plans to curtail services for patients,” Bilsky’s statement reads.

“This proposal is currently being reviewed, and a final decision will be based on our ability to provide the best care possible to Yukon patients in terms of quality and timeliness.”

He emphasized that urgent microbiology testing would continue to be done at WGH.

“What’s more, microbiology represents a small portion of the lab services we provide at the hospital.”

Specifically, of the approximately 41,000 lab tests conducted at WGH annually, around 1,500 are microbiology, Heke said.

If the St. Paul’s proposal is accepted, the goal is to have a contract in place for April 1.

Comments (14)

Up 7 Down 1

Mike on Feb 5, 2018 at 5:39 pm

This pure and simply was the Union bringing to the publics attention the hospital taking jobs from here and sending them to St Pauls.
The Liberal Government had said there would be no job cuts yet now they are starting to cut jobs. Unless you believe that the hospital is not government.

Up 7 Down 0

Groucho d'North on Feb 5, 2018 at 4:22 pm

Have you ever heard the term 'Exporting our economy'? This is what it looks like. Similar to hiring mine workers who live in Campbell River or Kelowna and flying them in and out of a Yukon mine project every two weeks with pay cheques earned here and spent where they live and taxes paid to their provincial governments rather than here.
I am not impressed with many of the business decisions made by government and its agents recently. They'll spend twenty dollars to save a dime. They have also not demonstrated a long term vision for building the Yukon economy, or explained their goals and objectives beyond the sound byte comments some staffer dreamed up.
Mr. Pillai's mandate letter does speak in the broadest possible way to what's important for building the Yukon economy, but I didn't see Exporting jobs anywhere in that mandate.

Up 5 Down 2

ralpH on Feb 5, 2018 at 12:42 pm

@ BnR when the union directly involves itself in any business model then they go too far. Government or otherwise. There is usually a clause in agreements than puts onus on employers to try and accommodate those affected. But for unions to outright critize business or government for trying to improve their models then that is going too far and out of line period.

Up 2 Down 2

BnR on Feb 4, 2018 at 1:34 pm

ralpH, the unions of which you speak are not "getting directly involved in company business". This is government, and if the distinction between private enterprise and public service escapes you.....

Up 3 Down 2

ralpH on Feb 3, 2018 at 5:24 pm

Scott and Mike nope on the union job, but pretty sure You do. I run a small business that has not unionized as of yet. Unions are a thing of the past. Human rights legislation protects workers and their right to earn a respectful wage. All my employees are paid fairly and have my respect and opportunity to have input into the business plan. Unions just protect to many that maybe should not be in those positions. Not all mind You but many. Right???

Up 4 Down 1

M Gregerson on Feb 3, 2018 at 4:42 pm

I wonder if any of these decision makers have been to St Paul's. That hospital is swamped all the time. What sort of priority would Yukon tests have?

Up 4 Down 1

David Griffiths on Feb 3, 2018 at 11:31 am

Just look at how well outsourcing worked for the USA economy.

Any savings that might accrue from this agreement with St Paul's through lower staffing requirements will be more than offset by the cost of shipping out each sample, delivery of samples from the airport to the hospital and any additional costs that may apply due to a shipment being designated as "Dangerous Goods".

Keep these jobs in the Yukon!

Up 5 Down 2

Scott mac lean on Feb 3, 2018 at 8:29 am

Ralph pretty sure you and most of your family have UNION jobs, right?

Up 7 Down 1

Mike on Feb 3, 2018 at 1:01 am

Ralph give your head a shake.
I own a small business in Whitehorse and those workers at the Yukon Hospital and other Unionized workplaces spending their money in my store allows me to stay in business. I have very few customers that work at St. Paul's.
While cutting 80% of the workload isn't closing the department it certainly will lead to a reduction in the staffing here in the Yukon and less customers in my store.
And we should all thank YEU/PSAC for bringing this to our attention, the Government and Hospital Corporation shouldn't be shipping our tax dollars off to the lowest bidder.

Up 5 Down 1

Michel Dupont on Feb 2, 2018 at 8:10 pm

"Microbiology" Like when a hospital closes a whole department or floor due to spread of a virus and or bug??? So, then...who will be on top of that?

Up 7 Down 1

Juniper Jackson on Feb 2, 2018 at 5:15 pm

This is not an economical move in my opinion...we already have the staff and the facilities...its not like they have to build a new building or import staff..that is all already in place... also..this is going to be a transportation of dangerous goods by air? Shipping every day? will say..an AIDS swab need additional protective housing for shipping? The Government is in this up their eyebrows..I'm pretty sure YHC would not arbitrarily make this decision without consulting with Pauline Frost at least... while I consider Ms. Frost to be very ineffectual she is still better than the last candidate and possibly better than the last butt to sit in the H and SS chair..

This move of service, not being beneficial to Yukoners, possibly even more costly than the current process..why are they doing this? CSI.. follow the money.. This would be a cut of cost to YHC directly, but an increase indirectly... the books would show a decrease of expense... how much of a bonus does the CEO get if he cuts expenses? just asking..

“This is being reviewed, nothing’s finalized,” Heke said of the proposal. hmmm.. really?

“The key driver in all of this is just making sure that we’re providing the best patient care possible.” I don't believe it..I don't think they give a damn about patient care...somehow, its going to be about money.

Up 8 Down 1

Thomas Brewer on Feb 2, 2018 at 4:25 pm

"oh no, we're not removing services" says Bilsky with fingers crossed behind his back.
this is a slippery slope and should be fought at every opportunity.

Up 3 Down 5

ralpH on Feb 2, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Another example of PSAC and Yukon Employees union getting directly involved in company business. If it makes good business sense then companies should not be hindered by this kind of harassment. Sad that those jobs are going elsewhere, but if we allowed the UNION to run things then we might as well resurrect the communist system of economics. Outside of ensuring human dignity and a fair wage mind Your own business union!!!

Up 7 Down 0

ProScience Greenie on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:29 pm

What we should be doing is expanding our lab services so that we can do all our own microbiology testing and also provide that service for other jurisdictions. That's how you diversify the economy and make money at the same time.

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