The Moe government is considering plans to cut services to the microbiology lab at Yorkton Regional Health Centre, a betrayal of rural health services that will increase wait times for diagnostic services, according to the union representing 14,000 health care workers.

“Rural health services have been struggling under this provincial government, and the cutting of microbiology lab services would further erode rural health care services in Saskatchewan,” said Sandra Seitz, president of CUPE 5430. “Having to send samples to Regina would double the wait time for test results meaning rural patients are at a greater risk of delayed treatment. Cuts and privatization are once again hitting small communities the hardest.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA) laboratory system has been plagued with staffing problems. In a recent survey, 83 per cent of lab workers said that heavy workload has kept them from doing their jobs to the best of their ability, and 92 per cent cited appropriate support and direction from management as a factor negatively impacting their job performance.

“It was staff shortages that forced temporary lab closures in Broadview and Moosomin,” added Seitz. “The SHA can address the chronic staff shortages in laboratories with an improved recruitment and retention plan, rather than more cut backs. The SHA needs to recruit, train and retain more lab workers,” said Seitz.

“Centralization is not a long-term solution to the staffing crisis in lab services,” said Linda Renkas, General Vice-President CUPE 5430 (Region 5). “Cutting microbiology services would delay much needed diagnostics when patients need answers quickly. Centralizing the labs would not speed that up.”

Cutting microbiology lab services affects more than just the people of Yorkton, since testing samples should be sent to the Yorkton lab from area facilities such as Kamsack, Canora and Esterhazy. CUPE is calling on the SHA and government to reverse the decision made months ago to send these regional samples to Regina where labs are already inundated with COVID-19 testing rather than Yorkton as had been the practice.

“Rural patients should not have to wait longer than patients in Regina to get test results,” added Renkas.  “Small communities are once again being sacrificed in the name of short-sighted cuts to health care.”