Interior Health researching options for future rural lab services

IH is starting a two-year process to create a sustainability strategy for their Lab Services.

Interior Health is starting a two-year process to create a sustainability strategy for their Lab Services to ensure that the health authority can keep up with the growing demand.

A memo was circulated in July informing staff about the upcoming strategy.

“The bottom line is that the way we’re doing business is not sustainable,” said Marty Woods, Interior Health’s Regional Director of Lab Services. “We’re seeing a consistent increase in the volume of demands, as well as a demand for more complex testing.”

Another issue affecting the sustainability of the service is staffing. Right now 29 per cent of the lab staff are 55 or older, and within the next decade that number will increase by another 19 per cent.

“These numbers are not just in Golden, but are typical throughout the region,” said Woods.

The engagement process for the study will begin in the fall when more staff are back from vacation and they can explore the best options for the future. There are several rural hospitals that may, or may not, be affected including Golden, Invermere and Revelstoke.

“We’re going to look at each hospital and decide the best option. For Golden that may mean some changes, but it may not. We may look at Golden and decide that nothing should change,” said Woods. “There won’t be any cookie-cutter solutions that will be imposed on every community.”

One possibility they will be looking into is centralizing the lab testing to Kelowna, where they can keep it fully staffed and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nothing will change in patient care in Golden, says Woods. All samples will continue to be taken at the local hospital as it is now. If more samples are being couriered to Kelowna there is the possibility that results may take longer. But given that lab staff will be working around the clock in Kelowna, depending on the day the sample is taken, results could actually come in faster, says Woods.

“Some samples from Golden, as it is right now, are being taken to Cranbrook…if that same sample gets taken to Kelowna, say on the weekend, the result might come in faster than it would have if Cranbrook had to wait until Monday.”

Golden’s location, and its relative isolation, will be taken into consideration before any decisions are made.

“Change can be very alarming to some people, it introduces a lot of unknowns, and we completely understand that,” said Woods. “But patient care remains our top priority.”