June 20th, 2024

Parkland Institute analyzes privatization in lab services

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on February 4, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

A report to examine the privatization of Alberta’s medical laboratory system has been prepared by the Parkland Institute.
The report by research manager at Parkland Institute, Rebecca Graff-McRae, “Misdiagnosis - Privatization and Disruption in Alberta’s Medical Laboratory Services” was publicly launched during a virtual press conference on Monday.
“From the outset the UCP government’s intention to further privatize medical laboratory services has been premised on the assumption that this contracting out is necessary, inevitable and beneficial. But this report rejects that premise,” said Graff-McRae during the press conference.
The report examines the policy changes by the UCP government with data from a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) request, as well as first-hand insights from workers within the system.
“I also undertook a network analysis of DynaLIFE and some of the other potential proponents who had applied to explore their political and financial linkages,” said Graff-McRae.
Graff-McRae said a survey was distributed through snowball and purposive sampling to lab workers within APL and DynaLIFE, asking how the past transformations in the lab system had impacted them and their colleagues, and their patients, and also what challenges or possible opportunities they anticipated under this present proposed deal.
“What I found through all of this was that the documents obscure more than they reveal. The government’s claims were not substantiated, and that decisions appeared to be based more on political and ideological considerations, than on the needs of lab workers or on the Albertans who rely on these services,” said Graff-McRae.
The current contract between DynaLIFE and AHS is set to expire at the end of March, which suggests that a government announcement concerning the multimillion dollar contract with DynaLIFE is likely to be issued within the next few weeks. 
Graff-McRae said that what was interesting in doing their network analysis, was how intricately interwoven DynaLIFE was with, in particular conservative lobby groups. All of the groups that were advocating to Alberta Health on behalf of DynaLIFE pushing for laboratory privatization had very clear direct and indirect links to conservative parties, to former conservative representatives such as Stephen Harper or Jason Kenney himself.
“Which suggests that there is a particular political agenda that’s under writing this process,” said Graff-McRae.
She said the report also sought to fill an important gap in the narrative surrounding these changes, and asked the experiences of lab professionals who know the system.
“One of the major concerns that we found from the lab workers that we surveyed, was around the lack of infrastructure investment in our public lab facilities,” said Graff-McRae.
She said the current deal suggests that as assets are transferred to DynaLIFE, there may be some investment in those now private facilities. But there is no indication that this government plans to, for example go forward with building a hub lab for Edmonton, or for updating the very inadequate space and add equipment that lab workers are currently dealing with.
She mentioned a quote that stood out as the norm for the lab workers they spoke to that reads “We’ve been under-spaced and under-equipped for decades. Some of our equipment is 40 years old and held together by duct tape and lab love. There is no space or equipment coming. We’re screwed,” lab technologist, APL, Edmonton zone.
This was something the president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the union that represents 6,000 lab professionals in the province, was all too familiar with.
“Your quotes are exactly what I hear all the time. Staffing shortages, equipment that is not working properly, using duct tape to hold stuff together. Not what a lab should be anywhere,” said Mike Parker, president of HSAA.
Graff-McRae said there was a real feeling of resignation and anxiety amongst lab workers they poke to, as they do not know what their future looks like.
She said they are being told that they will have guaranteed jobs within the new contract, but that does not mean they will be guaranteed the same job, the same role, and the same compensation at the same location they are currently working out of.
“This makes it really difficult for workers to plan for their families and for their future and it makes it incredibly difficult for our lab system to attract and retain experienced and talented lab professionals,” said Graff-McRae
Full report can be found at https://www.parklandinstitute.ca/misdiagnosis_privatization_and_disruption_in_albertas_medical_laboratory_services

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