All Campbell River Hospital pathology and lab services with full funding needs to be restored

Re: Urgent situation at the Campbell River Hospital Laboratory

In 2014 some clinical pathologists (heads of the divisions and department) in Victoria, lobbied a few VIHA executives and, with their approval, obtained the Island-wide contract in their newly-formed, private, for-profit corporation called VICPCC (Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation).

Shortly after, they centralized microbiology services from other labs to Victoria. We all fought it to no avail. For many of the tests, the turnaround time is longer compared to when it was performed locally. In addition, urgent tests such as Gram stain is now performed by non-microbiology techs which makes the results less reliable and occasional wrong diagnosis has been recorded since. After obtaining the contract for Campbell River clinical lab, worth 0.6 FTE (Full Time Equivalence) of funding, this private for-profit company offered Dr. Tabarsi and his colleague in Campbell River, a contract for 0.3 FTE (fifty cents for a dollar) to continue providing clinical pathology. VICPCC explained that the company is keeping the other 0.3 FTE of funding for overseeing the lab from Victoria.

Dr. Tabarsi is a general pathologist with a fellowship training in cytology. From 2001-5 he served as an assistant professor at the University of Calgary and a reference cytologist in Calgary and southern Alberta. He is highly qualified to do any oversight as he had already been doing for 10 years. He has been a practicing pathologist for 19 years (almost 15 years in Campbell River).

Dr. Tabarsi was hired in good faith to be in charge of the Campbell River lab. It is reprehensible that services have been removed from Campbell River lab on several occasions when services should be increased. It is also very disturbing to see him being treated in this manner. This private for-profit company is getting the profits while our hospital loses revenue on the loss of services.

On March 27, with no consultation, Dr. Tabarsi was notified that his contract (that was paying unfair 50 cents for a dollar) with VICPCC has been terminated as of April 1. He is highly qualified for all lab and pathology services and has been stripped of a lot of it. We have a shortage of doctors so we should value the wonderful doctors we have. It would be a travesty to lose Dr. Tabarsi and his professional talent.

Many times, Campbell River physicians need an immediate consult in order to make a decision on a very sick patient in the ICU or Emergency room and they want the in-house pathologist to quickly look at the blood smear to make a quick diagnosis. Now either they have to wait for the sample to go to Victoria or the technologist has to take pictures of different areas and email them to the pathologist in Victoria for their opinion. This is understandable if we didn’t have a pathologist on site, but is considered a suboptimal service due to either time delay or the fact that the pictured area may not be representative of the disease.

Finally, the most important damage is done to the anatomical pathology. Because of the effect of moving the 0.6 FTE of funding of the Clinical Pathology to VICPCC, now it is impossible to hire a third general pathologist (in order to guaranty the presence of two pathologists at any given time) in Campbell River. This will have significant negative impact on turnaround time for reporting biopsies, especially when one of the two local pathologists is away. In addition, the quality of service would suffer because one onsite pathologist would not be able to consult with a colleague regarding a difficult or malignant case.

In summary, these changes to clinical and anatomical pathology significantly compromise delivery of care to our patients. Dr. Tabarsi can no longer give quick diagnoses as the doctors must access Nanaimo or Victoria which takes longer. There are no more bone marrow biopsies done here and there is no funding to hire another pathologist for relief for the two pathologists for holidays or sick leave, etc. This is no benefit to patients, doctors, our hospital or our community. It only benefits a private company. It affects peoples’ lives.

A petition to restore the funding to the Campbell River lab has now been signed unanimously by 71 doctors to support Dr. Tabarsi, all our doctors, patients, our lab, our hospital and our community.

Citizens for Quality Health Care has written to the Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health: hlth.minister@gov.bc.ca and the Honourable Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation & Infrastructure/MLA for the North Island: claire.trevena.mla@leg.bc.ca. We are urging anyone concerned about this disturbing situation to write letters to support our pathologists, all our doctors, patients, our lab, our hospital and our community.

Dr. Tabarsi will be making a presentation at the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital Board public meeting on Thursday, April 11 at 9:30 a.m. at the Campbell River Maritime Heritage Centre. He has met with Minister/ MLA Claire Trevena and Mayor Andy Adams. We will do our utmost to strongly support Dr. Tabarsi, all our doctors, patients of the North Island and our Campbell River Hospital. Dr. Tabarsi has always risen to support the staff and people of the North Island. This situation is totally unacceptable.

All pathology and lab services with full funding needs to be restored. The Comox Valley lab is still under contract as they had to honour the contract the lab had with St. Jo’s. That expires in May 2020 and then the plan is to do the same to them. This will encompass all of Vancouver Island and will spread to all of BC. Many of the pathologists in BC are expressing grave concern.

The entire staff of the Campbell River lab has been demoralized many times due to the removal of services. We sincerely hope this negative and damaging situation will be reversed as soon as possible. We hope that there will be no more chipping away of our lab services and we hope to see our doctors treated in the valued, dignified manner they should be.

Lois and Ed Jarvis, Rich Hagensen and Joanne Banks

On behalf of Citizens for Quality Health Care