Another Local Lab Service Lost

A column in the January 8 Sault Star documents a rural community losing its blood taking services. The Thessalon Hospital, serving Thessalon and area, a satellite hospital of Sault St. Marie Hospital, recently stopped taking blood samples from community patients. Residents in these areas must now drive an extra 85 kilometres to have their blood taken in the Sault. In bad weather conditions this is often a dangerous trip, and it is a long trip for people who are ill, especially cancer patients, kidney patients, heart patients and all others with chronic illnesses that require frequent blood work.

I was struck by a few facts reported in this column. First, Thessalon is being treated unfairly compared to most other rural towns in the province. In most areas, when the community hospital stopped taking blood, one of the for-profit labs opened up close by: at least this is the case in southern Ontario. Often there were reduced hours, but the community still had service.

Second, the columnist, Doug Millroy, argues that the residents of these communities should get use to it because it is happening all over the province. It seems to me that fighting a decision that has increased cost, made it more difficult to provide full services to inpatients and cut services to community patients, should be fought in every community until it is reversed. We should not have to accept ill thought-out changes.

Last, in the article it mentions that this change is mandated by the Public Hospitals Act and the laboratory’s license. Well, I have been researching laboratory policy in Ontario for a few years and this is the first I have heard that hospitals labs are legally barred from taking community patients. Certainly, it has not been mentioned in the many discussions that I have monitored. Nor was it raised in answers to direct questions about the reasons for restricting hospital laboratory services.

It may be that there is a legal requirement though it would have been enacted in the last couple of years. Hospitals have been taking blood from all patients since they were built, in many cases for over 50 years, and no one has been charged or penalized. My understanding was that this development, moving all community blood work to for-profit laboratories, was driven by the Local Health Integration Networks and hospitals which need to save money in tight budget times. Clearly more work is needed to straighten out this story.

In the mean time, good luck to the residents of Thessalon.  As Ontario residents you have a right to reasonable access to essential health services and having your blood taken in your local hospital is reasonable.

Link to Millroy column: http://www.saultstar.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3428543

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