No date set for consolidating lab services

Christopher Gooding
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ERs to have point-of-care testing when change comes

SPRINGHILL – While the Cumberland Health Authority continues towards consolidating lab services in the region, no definitive date when that will happen has been made but a picture of what the process will look like is taking shape.

In January, CHA announced the decision to consolidate routine lab testing to the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre near Amherst, while specimens would continue to be collected at All Saints Hospital in Springhill, North Cumberland Memorial Hospital in Pugwash and the South Cumberland Community Care Centre in Parrsboro. The decision was made to balance the health authority budget and address a growing human resource challenge.

“Fifty per cent of our lab techs are retiring in the next five-years,” CHA’s Anne Keddy said. “We do have some younger techs, which is wonderful, but we need to help these vulnerable resources and making sure they continue to be viable.”

Eight positions – six in Springhill and one each in Parrsboro and Pugwash – will be moved to the regional hospital near Amherst.

Consolidating lab services means specimens will continue to be collected in communities already receiving the service. From there, the samples are transported to Amherst for testing, but that doesn’t mean healthcare professionals are waiting for results to be driven back, Keddy said. 

“Right now, once results are done they are entered into a computer system where the doctors and nurse practitioners access them wherever they are,” Keddy said. “That won’t change.”

And emergencies will get a step-up into point-of-care testing being used in the rest of the province. CHA is purchasing new equipment to conduct on location testing for emergencies in the three affected communities, allowing the collaborative care centres to conduct immediate testing when time is of the essence.

“The samples are collected and put into a machine, then the doctor or nurse practitioner can enter which tests they need done and the machine will do the testing right there.”

As an example, there are specific tests for a suspected heart attack, Keddy said, and the technology will provide testing right in the ER to allow doctors to make a diagnosis.

“Timeliness is important to us but what’s more important is patient safety,” Keddy said.

The lab in Amherst runs 24-hours a day, Keddy said, and when the consolidation happens it will continue to run 24-hours, while specimen collection outside of emergencies at Cumberland County’s CEC will continue to take place between 7 and 9:30 a.m., Mondays to Fridays.

And, for now, labs in those areas continue to test specimens.

“The consolidation is not going to happen tomorrow, it’s a process,” Keddy said. “We’re consulting and working with nurse practitioners and doctors. It’s a work in progress.”

He decision to consolidate services has not been without its critics, especially in Pugwash where a rally was held Feb. 20

“I think cutting our services is not the right way to look at cutting back. When you’re putting people’s health-care at risk, you need to be looking for other ways of making the cuts,” Kathy Redmond, Pugwash resident and former councilor for Cumberland County, said earlier this month.

The Cumberland Health Authority is in the process of trying to eliminate a $700,000 shortfall.

Organizations: Cumberland Health Authority, Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, All Saints Hospital North Cumberland Memorial Hospital in Pugwash South Cumberland Community Care Centre

Geographic location: Amherst, Springhill, Pugwash Parrsboro Cumberland County

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