AMHERST – Routine lab tests will no longer be processed at Cumberland County’s smaller hospitals.
The Cumberland Health Authority is consolidating its laboratory services at the regional hospital to balance its budget and deal with a growing human resources challenge. Blood and other specimens will continue to be collected in Springhill, Pugwash and Parrsboro, but they will be sent to the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre for processing.
“Specimens will continue to be drawn at all our sites and the samples will be transported to the regional site for processing. The patients should not see any difference in the care they are given,” health authority CEO Bruce Quigley told the Citizen-Record. “The urgent lab needs of patients as they appear in Springhill, Parrsboro and Pugwash will be done through point-of-care testing technology, but the routine processing of samples will be done at the regional site.”
Point-of-care testing will be done on a smaller scale for individuals in emergency situations. Quigley said the technology will allow that particular patient’s sample to be analyzed on site so the physician, nurse practitioner or other health-care provider will have the information they need as quickly as possible to make a diagnosis.
“There’s technology that’s available which allows those tests to be performed locally,” he said.
Consolidating the processing of lab specimens to the regional site will bring about a cost savings, but it will also allow the health authority to consolidate into one group a very scarce human resource in lab techs. Like other health authorities, Quigley said, approximately a third of the CHA’s lab techs will be in a retirement position over the next three years.
Because of this, he said, staffing is going to be more challenging.
The consolidation will affect eight positions, including six at All Saints in Springhill and one each in Parrsboro and Pugwash.
“This is not about laying scarce lab techs off, it’s about utilizing them more effectively for the lab program,” Quigley said. “It’s a big program. Last year the DHA had a budget of $63.8 million. Of that $3.6 million was for lab services. It’s an important service and we have to make sure we can maintain consistency in the provision of that service.”
Quigley said there will also be a savings in equipment maintenance. He said the regional hospital has $1.5 million in equipment that has the capacity to perform the tests. At the same time, he said, the CHA has been trying to maintain equipment in the other hospitals.
The CEO said it’s becoming “increasingly difficult” to staff the lab at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre on a 24-7 basis, something that’s a core service of a regional hospital. He said the consolidation will help alleviate this issue.
Quigley said the health authority’s business plan was formally approved by the province late last week. That approval included dealing with some financial challenges.
Other savings are coming from eliminating some previously approved management positions from the budget.
“We’re sharing a vice-president of operations with Colchester and our chief of staff position is down by a half. The CHA also had a retirement of the plant maintenance manager that we didn’t fill. We will also be sharing a laboratory manager position with Colchester,” he said.