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Hospital lab closures common across Vancouver Island: Island Health

Island Health acknowledges frustration for people when walk-ins cannot be accommodated
North Island Hospital – Campbell River and District. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror

The Campbell River hospital’s lab services have experienced periods of closure in recent weeks and Island Health is asking for the public’s patience while it deals with the situation.

But the staffing shortages feeding the closures are hardly unique to that facility, Island Health says. They are being felt throughout the province.

“A shortage of trained lab staff (Medical LaboratoryTechnologs [MLT] and Medical Lab Assistants [MLA]) is not unique to the NIH-CR, a specific region with Island Health, or even B.C.,” a statement from Island Health says. “This is an identified national issue affecting health authorities and hospitals across Canada.”

The public is often greeted by a sign outside of the North Island Hospital – Campbell River (NIH-CR) campus stating that the hospital lab is closed due to staffing shortages.

Area resident Eileen Mackay outlined her recent experience in a letter to Black Press Media.

“I have three times tried to get blood work done in the past three weeks with no success,” she wrote. “My booking at the Quadra lab on March 20 was cancelled the night before as (there was) no staff. I tried Campbell River Hospital as a walk-in the next day at 3 p.m. to find it was shuttered. You need to book 2-3 weeks in advance if possible.

“I tried again yesterday but it had closed at 2:30 p.m. They sent me to LifeLabs where I walked in and had the procedure done within five minutes. Why is our hospital, paid for by my taxes sending me to a private lab?”

Black Press Media attended the lab twice to drop off a sample to find it closed due to staffing shortage the first time and appointments-only the second time (but not for drop-offs). At the second incident, a frail patient in a wheelchair was attempting to get in for labwork but was told it was appointments only and that they could not be accommodated.

When asked to talk to someone at Island Health about the situation, Black Press Media was provided with a response from a communications staffer to be attributed to Island Health. The lab closures are not as frequent as it seems anecdotally on social media, Island Health indicated, and they won’t affect inpatient services (patients admitted to hospital).

“To clarify, the NIH-CR outpatient lab has only been closed for a total of 3.5 hours over two days in 2024 (March 18 and April 2),” the statement says. “There have been no interruptions to in-patient lab services, including for urgent and critical sample collection and analysis.”

The priority for Island Health lab services will be inpatient needs first and out-patient (walk-in patients) second.

“Island Health’s priority is maintaining all inpatient and emergent lab services that support our inpatients and clinical teams at NIH-CR,” Island Health says. “When there are short notice absences (due to things like illness) for lab staff scheduled to work in the inpatient lab that can’t be immediately backfilled, we will shift staff from the outpatient lab to ensure all inpatient services remain unaffected.”

When this occurs, there can be temporary situations where we can only serve people with booked appointments for outpatient collection, Island Health says. The public is enouraged to book appointments by going online or calling 1-866-370-8355.

“Island Health understands and acknowledges it can be frustrating for people when walk-ins cannot be accommodated. We ask for your continued patience and understanding as we work to prioritize critical inaptient services.”

Island Health also suggested that there is a LifeLabs location in Campbell River for non-urgent outpatient collections open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Call 1-800-431-7206.

Meanwhile, to deal with the staff shortages specific to the Campbell River hospital, recruitments are ongoing.

“Island Health has and continues to undertake significant and focused actions to support staff retention, as well as short and long-term recruitment,” Island Health says.

Recent actions include:

- Securing staff volunteers from ther sies who are willing to be re-deployed to NIH-CR to cover a short term absence.

- Implemented multiple recruitment strategies, including signing bonuses for new, trained MLT staff.

- Layering additional staff at other sites to create backups in case of an urgent need for re-deployment.

- Developed an in-house training program to upskill MLAs to perform many MLT duties within their sope of practice. The second cohort of MLAs undergoing this training is nearing completion.

Alistair Taylor

About the Author: Alistair Taylor

I have been editor of the Campbell River Mirror since 1989. Our team takes great pride in serving our community.
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