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‘A step too far’: Alberta woman raises concern over newly-privatized lab tests

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It was a routine test Sheryl Parkin had received in Alberta many times before.

“I was here for lab work and an EKG,” she said, referring to an electrocardiogram test, in which sensors (electrodes) are attached to the chest and limbs to help detect heart-related conditions.

People have to remove their clothes from the waist-up for the procedure, and are usually given a hospital gown.

But during a recent visit to a Calgary lab, Parkin was faced with what she described as an ‘uncomfortable’ new procedure.

“The lab tech told me they were no longer offering paper gowns for patients for this test. And that I would simply have a sheet of paper to cover myself,” said Parkin. “It felt undignified and it really offended my modesty as a person.

“I really felt that was a step that was too far.”

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Last year, Alberta Health Services contracted DynaLIFE Medical Labs to take over community lab services, making it responsible for 50 million tests a year.

DynaLIFE had already provided lab services in Edmonton and several communities in the AHS North zone for more than 25 years, but the new contract saw the lab provider expand to more cities and towns across the rest of the province.

The contract includes operating patient service and mobile collection centers in large communities, including Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Brooks, Lloydminster, Camrose, Airdrie, Cochrane, Okotoks, Strathmore, Leduc, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, St. Albert and Stony Plain.

Read more:

DynaLIFE signs a contract with AHS to deliver community lab services across Alberta

Since the transition began, complaints have piled in from patients describing challenges in accessing services like blood tests.

“My daughter has to do blood work every three months due to her medication,” said Paula Wallace following delays she experienced during a recent visit to an Airdrie DynaLIFE clinic.

Her daughter has multiple sclerosis (MS).

“We are at a loss as to how we are going to do this every three months, sitting in a waiting room that long.”

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Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services network outage leads to postponed surgeries, lab work'

Alberta Health Services network outage leads to postponed surgeries, lab work

Patients Global News spoke with outside a southwest Calgary clinic Wednesday echoed her concerns. They spoke of waiting times exceeding two hours, even for scheduled appointments.

“There’s a three-hour wait for walk-ins,” said Jeff Vangeel, a diabetes patient whose doctor suggested he drop-in for some blood work.

“I asked, ‘Maybe I should come back at three (pm)?’ He said, ‘No, then we’re on skeleton staff’. So he suggested that I come at seven in the morning and then maybe I can get in the next hour or so.”

DynaLIFE says it’s expanding clinic hours and hiring additional staff in Calgary while it works to open additional clinics this summer.

Read more:

Alberta expands contract with private lab DynaLIFE to open more centers

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As part of its own statement, Alberta Health Services said quality and wait-time metrics are closely monitored and “where wait times are not being met, ongoing discussions are underway.”

AHS deferred Global News to DynaLIFE in regards to procedures and standards for offering robes and/or paper sheets to patients.

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

DynaLIFE said, “[W]e have been using a single-use disposable blanket for ECGs in Calgary. This is the same product used across Edmonton and the North as well as in many doctors’ offices, however, it is different than what was previously used in Calgary.

“We have now identified sources in Calgary to provide single-use disposable gowns and those that will be available for use in Calgary by next week.”

It’s welcome news to people like Parkin, determined to see the new clinics maintain care.

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“I believe that they’re delivering less for the patient’s dignity and modesty in the face of the fact that their bottom line probably gets better because people don’t speak up.”

Last year AHS said in order to ensure small, rural and remote communities continue to receive the services they need, smaller hospitals and community health sites that currently handle less than 25,000 community blood test collections per year will continue to be provided by Alberta Precision Laboratories ( APP).

APL will also continue to provide lab services inside acute care hospitals, along with specialized lab testing, research and innovation that is critical to Alberta’s provincial lab system.

— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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