Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a general pathologist at the North Island Hospital Campbell River Hospital Medical Laboratory, spoke about the issue of service in the region at a meeting in February 2020. Black Press file photo

Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a general pathologist at the North Island Hospital Campbell River Hospital Medical Laboratory, spoke about the issue of service in the region at a meeting in February 2020. Black Press file photo

Comox Strathcona hospital board wants pathology service back

UPDATED: Board supports move for chair, vice-chair to engage with Island Health on issue

The board overseeing local hospital capital contributions is opting for direct communication rather than written over hopes, in its view, to restore pathology services for the two North Island Hospital campuses.

The Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District, made up of elected representatives from the Comox Valley and Strathcona regional districts, has been writing in recent years following questions over the role of on-site labs at the two new hospital campuses versus another lab with a contract through Island Health.

At their May 13 meeting, the choice for the board was whether to write a letter to the Minister of Health to intervene in the renewed contract between Island Health and the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation for pathology services, or the alternate recommendation from chief administrative officer Russell Dyson to have board chair Charlie Cornfield and vice-chair Doug Hillian engage with Island Health over contracting of clinical pathology service.

Brenda Leigh, an SRD director, had made the motion for the letter to the ministry calling for intervention, saying that the CSRHD had invested in the two new hospitals, which opened in 2017, though pathology services work started being sent to the other lab.

Among the board, there was opposition not to the goal but to the means suggested.

“I’m not clear what the requested action is going to accomplish,” Hillian responded.

Jim Abram, another SRD director, preferred the letter approach calling for intervention because it would represent the input from all of the board.

“There is strength in numbers,” he said, later adding, “It never hurts to have a written record on file.”

However, others felt the board had already gone the route of writing letters.

Cornfield also said Island Health officials will be discussing the matter with Citizens for Quality Health Care, a grassroots citizens’ group in the region that has worked on numerous issues over the past 17 years, including the building of the new hospitals, and that started campaigning on the matter of North Island Hospital pathology services.

Some on the board suggested both courses of action, though the motion to write the letter failed to pass. Of the 23 board members, only five supported it. Following the vote, a motion was made for an amendment to the alternate recommendation that would have added a clause about writing a letter. As Daniel Arbour, a CVRD director, had stepped away, the vote was split 11-11 and failed to pass. Finally, the motion for Cornfield and Hillian to engage with Island Health over contracting of clinical pathology service passed.

RELATED STORY: ‘Bad blood’ over pathology issue, says Island Health medical director

At the board meeting last September, Leigh made a motion calling for general pathology services to be reinstated at the local hospitals. At the same meeting, Dr. Jennifer Grace, Island Health’s executive medical director for the area, spoke about pathology services, such as interpreting blood and bone marrow work, and how the need is often for more specialized service than what happens at local general pathology units.

On April 30, James Hanson, Island Health’s vice-president of Clinical Operations, Central/North Vancouver Island, issued a statement about the role of the labs, saying Island Health is committed to retaining the pathology labs at the two hospitals. Among his points, he states there have been no changes to laboratory service levels at either North Island Hospital campus since microbiology was moved from the Comox Valley in 2017, there have been no staffing reductions in the communities’ labs and 22 medical laboratory assistants and technologists were recruited to the campuses during the past year, most samples are being processed by local technologists in the communities.

(This story has been edited to correct some information.)


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