Interior Health eyeing changes to lab services

Interior Health is looking at restructuring its lab services division due to an upcoming labour crunch, the department head says.

Interior Health is looking at restructuring its lab services division due to an upcoming labour crunch, the department head says.

“The simple fact of the matter is our business model we have in place today is not going to be sustainable much longer,” said Marty Woods, the regional director for lab services for Interior Health. “To that effect we’re asking to engage with the physicians and caregivers in each of the communities to propose a different business model.”

Woods issued a memo to all lab services staff last month announcing the department would be embarking on a “sustainability strategy for the future.”

In an interview, Woods said the issue is that lab services staff is aging and there aren’t enough new workers coming through the ranks to replace them. He said 29 per cent of technologists are currently 55 or older, and another 19 per cent will reach that age in the next five years. At the same time, the volume of work being done is increasing by five per cent every year due to an aging population.

“It’s basically announcing we need to work with everybody to try and find a different business model that’s going to help us sustain services in the wake of all these potential retirements at the same time volume demands are increasing,” he said.

The proposal, outlined in the memo, is to centralize core lab testing at Kelowna General Hospital, while expanding point-of-care testing at smaller hospitals. The Kelowna lab would conduct routine testing for chemistry, hematology, immunoassay, coagulation, urinalysis and some specialized testing.

“What we’re proposing to do is take that volume of tests, what we call the routine out-patient stuff, and move it to an automated lab in Kelowna that will run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Woods.

Point-of-care machines would be used in local hospitals to run urgent tests in order to support the emergency room.

Details are still being worked out, but Woods said they would be consulting with physicians and caregivers this fall to see what tests needed to be done on site, and which could be centralized in Kelowna.

He said staffing at Revelstoke’s Queen Victoria Hospital wouldn’t be affected; there are currently four lab technicians at the hospital.

“We’re not going to allow the service to degrade in any way but we think this is a model we can put in place that will help us sustain the services, particularly in light of the retirements that are coming,” he said.

Janice Morrison, the vice-president of the Health Sciences Association of B.C., the union that represents lab services technicians, said they would be working cooperatively with Interior Health on the changes.

“We care about our services and the work our members do,” she said. “We want to ensure that all the patients needs are met.”