Dr. David Robertson, executive medical director, laboratory, speaks to Campbell River city council on Monday, explaining some of the difficulties VIHA is having in filling pathology and lab technologist positions. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Campbell River city council hears from VIHA re: staffing shortage at hospital lab

‘I see this as strictly an operational and management issue, and I would hope you would get on it’

Ongoing issues at the pathology laboratory at the Campbell River Hospital have made their way to city council chambers.

Two presentations were made to council on Monday, outlining and then responding to community concerns about the outsourcing of some pathology services to Victoria, first reported by the Mirror back in April.

The Citizens for Quality Health Care claims making that move – instead of hiring a third general pathologist for Campbell River to cover the excess workload – leads to slower turnaround times for lab results and puts patient care at risk.

Representatives from Island Health (VIHA) responded to these claims by saying that pathology is increasingly being done by specialists – anatomic pathologists and hematopathologists rather than generalists – and this move was a reflection of that. In fact, generalists aren’t even being trained anymore in any significant numbers, according to Dr. David Robertson, executive medical director of laboratory services for VIHA, who told council Monday that “the last one to be trained in B.C., I think, graduated in 2017 – but it could have been 2016,” but then went on to do additional training “and is now working as a full-time hematopathologist in Interior Health.”

While Robertson, along with Dr. Steven Lokken, medical director of laboratory services for VIHA, acknowledged the lab is understaffed for the workload, he also said it’s VIHA’s plan to eventually have six pathologists on a team that would serve the pair of North Island Hospitals – five doing anatomic and one doing hematopatholgy – to serve both regional hospitals as one team – which would more than cover the amount of work being done between the two facilities.

But while council acknowledged that it’s good to hear about the long-term goals for the lab, VIHA has a responsibility to serve the community now.

Mayor Andy Adams was upset at the situation, as were the rest of the councillors remaining in the room after Coun. Claire Moglove recused herself, as she sits on the hospital board of directors.

“I see this as strictly an operational and management issue, and I would hope you would get on it,” Adams said. “I waited for nine days for pathology results that were sent to Victoria, and Dr. Robinson himself said at the Strathcona Regional District meeting, the expectation should be three to four days, so something is not working, gentlemen.”

Dr. Lokken said he’s “encouraged to have a community that knows what lab is and cares about that. We’re usally invisible. This is heartwarming, actually.”

However, he also said it’s not about securing resources after members of council suggested the city could help with that, as it has in the past. It’s about finding the people to fill the positions.

“It’s important to understand that we actually have the resources to fund these spots,” Lokken says. “It’s not the money. We need the trained human beings who simply do not exist in abundance across the nation,” saying that they are currently in discussions with regulatory bodies to see if they can make it easier to bring in people from places like Australia, where there are more specialists.

“We can help you,” Adams said. “What we don’t want to hear is the bafflegab. You need to tell us what it is you want, and I’m not hearing that tonight. We’re here, whenever you’re ready, to meet with us, meet with our staff, whether it’s tourism or economic development or human resources or whoever, because this council is representing not only this community, but the entire North Island, and your organization is trying to provide the best service possible for the citizens we represent. We can help you, but you need to help us, which means providing the information we can support you with and being a bit more proactive with us.”

“That would be fantastic,” Lokken said.


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