Members of the Comox-Strathcona Regional Hospital District board are worried Island Health is going to ignore their wishes to be excluded from a contract for lab services being awarded to Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation (VIPCC).
The board has twice expressed to Island Health the board’s opposition to including North Island Hospitals in Comox and Campbell River in the contract for pathology services to replace the current one which expires March 31.
“We have written twice, the same sentiment, and we have received no response,” said director Brenda Leigh who initiated the discussion at the board’s meeting held in Campbell River’s Maritime Heritage Centre Feb. 27. “What we need to do now because we’re talking about an imminent signing of a contract in the next four weeks that would lock us into a private pathology service in Victoria and erode our pathology service in our hospitals…we need to highlight to them the urgency of not signing that contract until they send somebody here to explain to us how it’s going to impact us.”
Island Health’s plan to centralize the clinical pathology services including interpretation and diagnosis of blood, urine and other fluid samples in Victoria has been the subject of significant community activism in Campbell River and the Comox Valley over the past year. The Citizens for Quality Health Care (CQHC) says the plan poses significant and sometimes life-threatening dangers to patients and makes the work of lab staff, family physicians and specialists at the local hospital frustrating and difficult.
Last November, North Island MLA Claire Trevena presented to the B.C. Legislature a petition signed by over 2,500 people calling for the return of clinical pathology testing to the Campbell River Hospital, funding to hire a third general pathologist at the Campbell River Hospital, and an independent investigation into the apparent conflict of interest between the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) and the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation.
Dr. David Robertson, Executive Medical Director, Laboratory Medicine, Island Health, said in letter sent last month to Campbell River and Comox Valley newspapers that Island Health “has not and does not intend to remove pathology labs and services 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.”
The only recent change to local services occurred in April 2019, when the consultation of clinical pathology samples in Campbell River was transferred to pathologists working within Island Health hospitals in Nanaimo and Victoria, Dr. Robertson said. Island Health approved this transfer in keeping with the aim of having clinical pathology performed by pathologists with additional training in those fields, and in keeping with contractual obligations.
That change spurred Campbell River pathologist Dr. Aref Tabarsi to raise the alarm last April about the outsourcing of lab services to a private contractor in Victoria.
Now, Director Leigh and others are getting nervous about the imminent expiration of the pathology services contract and the lack of communication from Island Health about whether it is going to comply with the board’s expressed wishes to not be included.
“Time is of the essence here,” Director Jim Abram told the Feb. 27 CSRHD meeting. “If we don’t hear something and they go ahead and sign a contract and then they reply to us saying, ‘Oh, gee, you’re too late.’ That is not acceptable.”
Leigh initiated a motion that would eventually read: “Due to the the fact that the Comox-Strathcona Regional Hospital District board has requested since November 2019 to not be included in the VIPCC contract, the board requests that pathology services be re-instated and that no changes be made to include the North Island Hospitals in the VIPCC contract and further that Island Health be requested to meet at the soonest opportunity to further discuss this matter.”
The motion was passed.