Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a general pathologist at the North Island Hospital Campbell River Hospital Medical Laboratory, speaks in front of about 200 people at a Town Hall event at the Sportsplex in Campbell River, B.C. on Feb. 9, 2020.

Community members express concern about hospital lab services at town hall meeting

Advocacy efforts in support of the Campbell River hospital laboratory, its staff and North Island patients continued over the weekend.

Citizens for Quality Health Care and Council of Canadians Campbell River Chapter co-hosted a town hall meeting at the Campbell River Sportsplex Sunday afternoon. There are concerns that changes to the delivery of clinical pathology services for Campbell River patients are negatively impacting result wait times.

A variety of speakers including Dr. Aref Tabarsi, senior general pathologist at the Campbell River hospital and Dr. Peter Olesen, senior plastic surgeon presented in front of a crowd of about 200 people.

Dr. Tabarsi explained to the room the difference between types of pathology and spoke about what it is currently like to work in the lab at the Campbell River hospital. He continues to advocate for a third general pathologist position in Campbell River. The need is highlighted when one person goes on vacation or is sick, leaving their work to the other clinical pathologist.

“It’s not safe to have one pathologist in the lab,” he said.

Dr. Olesen, who was medical director for transitions into the new hospitals, said he was told there would be no service erosion in the new space.

“The two messages I was given was that all the services that we had at present would be maintained and they would be the same or better, but we weren’t going to get any new services,” he said. “That was one of my beefs; if you’re not going to grow that’s not a healthy situation.”

Lois Jarvis, a member of Citizens for Quality Health Care, said she’d been contacted by a number of people upset with long wait times for lab test results.

“This is about the well-being of patients who are the losers until this is fixed,” she said and offered a solution. “VIHA can choose to exclude Campbell River and the Comox Valley from this contract and leave the services and all other hospital services in the North Island hospitals where they should be to properly serve the patients, or they can just cancel the existing contract altogether.”

Island Health says it conducted a “quality review” of more than 900 samples collected between April 1, 2019 and Jan. 15, 2020. The review “showed the turnaround time for clinical pathology lab results from Nanaimo and Victoria are consistent with or better than the turnaround time when these lab results were provided in Campbell River.” Island Health says that results for the most “commonly performed test” are coming back on average 14 hours faster.

Island Health issued a statement this week saying it is “committed to North Island residents continuing to receive timely results to pathology testing.”

“Ensuring equitable access to sustainable, high quality and specialized pathology services is a priority. It is also a priority for Island Health to understand the impact of decisions and ensure patient care is not adversely affected. When concerns are raised, the circumstances are reviewed to ensure quality care is being provided,” the statement says.

“Island Health has not and does not intend to remove pathology labs from either North Island Hospital campus. Locally based pathologists remain under contract to work within Island Health’s North Island hospital campuses and continue to provide valuable local services.”