Docs upset as AHS eliminates regional pathologist position

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  |  Posted: Tuesday, Aug 06, 2013 06:00 am

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Dear Editor,

It is with great concern that the Medical Staff at the Bonnyville Health Centre (BHC) is submitting this letter. In the past few weeks we have learned that Alberta Health Services has decided to terminate pathology services at the Bonnyville Hospital. For the past 25 years Bonnyville has had two pathologists on staff, rendering an excellent service to an average of 15 centers, including towns like Boyle, Athabasca, Lac La Biche, Glendon, Wainwright, Cold Lake, St. Paul, etc. The Medical Staff at our facility were never consulted about the wisdom of this decision or how it might impact our ability to provide high quality medical service.

Alberta Health Services gave several reasons as to why closure of this service was necessary, all of which the Medical Staff adamantly disagree with.

Alberta Health Services claimed that general pathologists are difficult to find and therefore we would not be able to replace the retiring Dr. Bob Davey, leaving too much work for the remaining pathologist, Dr. Puttaswamy. Alberta Health Services has known for almost five months that Dr. Davey was retiring and our repeated requests to start the recruitment process were ignored. The hospital was never given an opportunity to try and find a replacement pathologist. In the past 20 years we have had a long history of successful recruiting, having recruited five pathologists over the past 25 years, each staying an average of six years at a time. Not all pathologists want to work in the city or for a huge corporation.

Alberta Health Services claims that it is too difficult to maintain quality in small one and two pathologist labs. They also, however, readily admit that there has never been an issue with the quality of the reports coming out of the BHC and in fact quality assurance programs have been going on for years. While they claim one and two pathologist labs are an institution of the past, they continue to recruit for both Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray, both centers having only one pathologist at present. They have programs in place to guarantee quality and accuracy in those facilities, yet don’t seem to be willing to integrate with existing quality programs in Bonnyville. New technologies such as transmitting pictures and information on line should make quality assurance easier than it has ever been in the past.

There has never been a question of efficiency as our pathologists typically do 25 per cent more work for the same pay as the average pathologist in the province.

Why are we the Medical Staff so concerned about the loss of the pathologist position?

Biopsies that were taken in our facility were often processed with reports being produced in one to five days. Now these biopsies will have to be sent to the city and we are likely looking at up to two to four weeks’ turnaround time in getting results back.

Our ability to talk directly to the pathologist about the best laboratory test to order or interpretation of laboratory results is now going to be much more difficult than it has been in the past.

The more services and specialist backup we can provide in our facility the more attractive we are when trying to recruit new physicians. Bonnyville, like many rural communities, is in desperate need of more physicians and having better specialist backup makes us a more attractive place to practice.

We feel quite certain that this is just the start of major downgrading of laboratory services in our community. We have already seen how Alberta Health Services has removed critical testing like microbiology from Westlock and Wainwright, directing these tests to the private corporation Dynalife. The Medical Staff feels that unless we stand up to Alberta Health Services immediately, critical, even potentially lifesaving testing will be lost from our facility.

With the huge influx of people into the Bonnyville area, is it not enough that the hospital staff and physicians are being asked to look after a 10-20 per cent increase in population while absorbing a reduction to the hospital budget? Now they want us to do all that and at the same time take away the tools we need to provide safe, efficient, and timely care to our patients.

The Medical Staff in Bonnyville has already tried going through the channels, by appealing to the Alberta Health Services administration but to date we have been unable to convince them to reconsider their decision. We are therefore appealing to the citizens of Bonnyville and the companies and corporations that are bringing their staff to work in the area to please send a strong message to the Minister of Health, our MLA, and Alberta Health Services. If this is not done soon we can expect significant degrading of the health services within this region. We urge the public to make their voice heard and fight for what rightfully belongs to them, a safe, stable, and sustainable healthcare system within their own community.

Sincerely,

Dr. Leonard de Freitas on behalf of the Bonnyville Medical Staff


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