By Gillian Slade on December 22, 2017.
A new laboratory hub will be built in Edmonton to consolidate services for the province under an Alberta Health Services public corporation by 2022, the health minister announced Thursday.
A new laboratory hub will be constructed on 5.8 hectares in Edmonton with the goal of more integration, capacity and efficiency of diagnostic services.
“Alberta families count on lab services for the majority of medical decisions. We’re building cost-effective and integrated lab services that will support public health care for generations to come,” said Sarah Hoffman.
Early next year the province will also begin consolidating lab services into a public corporation under AHS. When implemented in 2022, the public model will leverage existing AHS infrastructure, accounting systems and corporate services while optimizing innovation in laboratory diagnostics to accommodate growing demands, a press release stated. The new governance board under AHS will oversee all lab services in the province.
Friends of Medicare questions the wisdom of another corporation being established under AHS.
“I think that will just serve to create another layer of administration that may or may not be necessary,” said executive director Sandra Azocar. “We were hoping to see it fully integrated into the public system.”
Azocar notes there is no separate board under AHS for diagnostic imaging or for ambulance services.
Over the next two years $20 million will be spent on planning and the preliminary design of the new facility. Construction is expected to start in 2019 and be completed by 2022. No budget was provided for anticipated construction costs or for the new governance board model.
“The new lab hub and integrated governance model will be competitive, in both design and function, with best-practice lab systems around the world. Ultimately, this will help improve the efficiency and quality of Alberta’s lab system, which Albertans will benefit from every day,” said Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS president and CEO.
The new facility positions Alberta well for innovation and research, said Bob Wanner, NDP MLA for Medicine Hat.
“It ties into the vision of Alberta being a leader in research and innovation on a number of fronts,” said Wanner. “I think that’s quite significant.”
Using government land for the new facility will save costs, said Wanner.
“It is an overview, a long-range plan in terms of not just solving today’s next quarterly returns but looking out into the future and seeing us well positioned …,” said Wanner.
Drew Barnes, UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, sees the government’s decision as “tighter control and tighter centralization.” He is also concerned about the possible cost of the project.
When AHS announced the contract with Medicine Hat Diagnostic Laboratory would not be renewed, beyond March 2017, in favour of an AHS laboratory, Barnes suggested the decision reflected a different agenda rather than a cost-savings measure.
“They believe in just one big public system,” said Barnes. “We are the most expensive, per capita, health system in the country and we have some of the worst results.”
Centralizing the system may not be the best solution for rural Alberta — not reflective of local needs, said Azocar.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has noted Hoffman’s promise of no job losses as a result of the changes. While it considers the announcement to be “positive for public health services in the province”, AUPE has many questions it is seeking clarity on, its website states.
CUPE Alberta president Marle Roberts says lab services under one central board will be good for patients and promote important research.
“With this structure, Alberta will become a research hub, while providing the best health services possible to patients,” said Roberts. “CUPE health care workers are excited about the potential this brings to their important work.”
Two years ago the provincial government ordered an independent review of lab services in Alberta. The Health Quality Council of Alberta recommended public oversight of lab services in 2016. It said there was a need for new laboratory infrastructure in Edmonton, integrated lab services for the province and a single laboratory information system for the province.
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