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TIME FOR ACTION: Advocacy in Alberta

July 15, 2020
by: Cathy Bouwers, Communications Manager, CSMLS.

As pledged during the 2019 provincial election, the newly elected United Conservative (UCP) government proceeded with the cancellation of the planned $595 million Hub Lab in Edmonton. Although $23 million was spent on preliminary work, the project was terminated in early June. Upon hearing this news, medical laboratory professionals in the province were outraged, and they had every right to be, knowing how this would impact patient care throughout the province. 

In 2017, the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA) published the Provincial Plan for Integrated Laboratory Services in Alberta report. The report included an assessment of the current state of laboratory services in Alberta and described the laboratory infrastructure needs in Edmonton as “urgent” and the situation as being at a “tipping point where change is needed in order to provide sustainable and high-quality laboratory services to Albertans.” The report goes on to state that “the status quo was not seen as viable” and the “ability to provide patient care was being compromised.” 

One viable solution was the establishment of the Hub Lab model. It would have played an essential role across the province in alleviating a growing shortage of services, primarily in Edmonton and Northern Alberta. With the announcement of the cancellation of this plan, CSMLS took action and showed up to amplify the voices of Alberta’s medical laboratory community.

Our first step was to listen. CSMLS hosted an Open Forum for laboratory professionals in Edmonton to hear directly from the lab community and truly understand the concerns. We heard and clarified concerns in two areas: capital investments and physical environments. 

Concerns from members over aging equipment were supported by the 2017 HQCA report which indicated that at the time of the review, 76 per cent of equipment at Alberta Health Services (AHS) was at or past end-of-life. 

The other main concern was the physical space lab professionals are working in, specifically in Edmonton. The physical state of laboratory facilities in Edmonton has long been a topic of concern as the majority of investment in the past 15 years has occurred in Calgary. The 2017 HQCA report states that there are “urgent facility issues” in the Edmonton region.

A 2007 space assessment of Edmonton labs concluded that the existing space at the University of Alberta hospital, Royal Alexandra and Provincial Laboratory in Edmonton was oversubscribed and poorly designed. Recommendations at that time were relocation and major renovation.

After hearing directly from our members, CSMLS CEO Christine Nielsen, together with Joël Rivero, Director of Alberta, Northwest Territories & Nunavut, held a press conference to call on the Alberta government to work with stakeholders in finding a solution to improve testing delivery and infrastructure.

The story was picked up by major local and national media outlets including CBC, CTV and Global News, generating over 8.4 million outreach hits. The attention also spurred a direct tweet from the Minister of Health. 

“We are calling on the government to deliver facility investments across Alberta to increase the efficiency of current testing and deliver more results to remote communities for less,” said Christine Nielsen, CEO. 

While the press conference and subsequent media attention were important, we didn’t stop there. With the spotlight on labs in the province, CSMLS was invited to meet with key government decision-makers. We coordinated meetings with the Ministry of Health and the NDP Health Critic to ensure non-partisan dialogue during ongoing negotiations. For these meetings we felt it was vital to have a local perspective. We invited Lisa Purdy, CSMLS member and volunteer, to join the discussions. Lisa is the Director and an Associate Professor for the Laboratory Medicine program at the University of Alberta, and as such her insight into the current state of the profession, as well as the future outlook, was invaluable.

During the meetings, Christine and Lisa were able to highlight the two most urgent areas that need to be addressed: the physical 
laboratory space and past end-of-life equipment, both of which need investment to continue to provide high-quality patient care. They also specified that any future planning for development should include a consultative process that involves lab professionals working in both private and publicly funded laboratories. 

The CSMLS also provided Alberta members with a custom advocacy toolkit, to help raise awareness of the issues in their local community. The toolkit included template letters for Members of Legislative Assembly, fact sheets and key messaging notes to help facilitate meetings with government representatives in their own ridings. 

About the Author: Cathy Bouwers

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