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Medical lab testing expands in Calgary as long waits persist


A new initiative to clear the backlog of medical test appointments in Calgary kicked off on Saturday. 

To reduce bottlenecks and long waits, the Alberta government has taken more appointments in-house, offering 400 at the South Health Campus and the Peter Lougheed Centre. 

Another 175 appointments are to open next Saturday at the Foothills Medical Centre.

They'll be done by government-owned Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL), which is typically responsible for hospital and urgent care centre tests. 

Health experts believe the expanding scope shows just how dire the situation is. Some Calgarians wait hours to access walk-in work; others say they can't book for weeks because privately-owned Dynalife is too busy. 

"It is frustrating," Calgarian Roberta told CTV News after a two hour clinic queue Saturday. "Especially when you make an appointment. What's the point if you have to wait anyways?"


The new appointments are great news for those looking for tests.

But they have potential to become a headache for APL staff, according to one employee.  

"It's going to look crazy," Kassandra Willson said. "It's going to be lined up, staff stressed out, patients stressed out."

Another 175 appointments are to open next Saturday at the Foothills Medical Centre.

Willson says Foothills, where she currently takes blood work, is already "in trouble."

She believes some of the outside requests could create a Dynalife-like backlog. 

"We don't have enough people to book, and then we get five plus sick calls a day. So then we end up doing the work of three."

It was a concern echoed by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) on Thursday, when the announcement was made. 

The HSAA president said members have been working overtime and extra time to help fill the gap in lab testing, and it's all taken a toll.

"We don't have the people," Mike Parker said. "I think Dynalife failed. They made a plan that wasn't realistic, and the government bought a plan to send taxpayer dollars to Bay Street profiteers."


The government has acknowledged multiple times that the system isn't currently working. 

The health minister wasn't available for an interview Saturday, but press secretary Scott Johnston sent a statement, saying, in part, that "Albertans are waiting too long for lab services and it is unacceptable."

Johnston says the province is "taking immediate action to add thousands of appointments per week in Calgary" -- up to 7,500, in fact.

That'll happen, according to the ministry, by contracting additional third-party providers and opening and expanding community patient service centres. 

Also part of the plan: more staff. 

Willson says recruiting and training isn't that easy. 

"We can't get staff," she said, "and we can't get staff to stay. We're too swamped and people are burnt out, they don't want to do it anymore. So they leave."

The province says regardless, it will continue exploring options to improve services. 

AHS has more information on how to book an appointment.

-With files from the Canadian Press Top Stories

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