08/07/2013 06:52 EDT | Updated 10/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Bonnyville Hospital's Pathology Cuts Concern Medical Staff


BONNYVILLE, Alta. - Medical staff in a town in northeastern Alberta say they are concerned that its pathology services are being cut.

In a letter to the editor published in the Bonnyville Nouvelle, Dr. Leonard de Freitas wrote that for 25 years the town hospital has had two pathologists on staff.

He says he and other staff have learned that Alberta Health Services is ending pathology services at the Bonnyville Hospital.

De Freitas says the pathologists serve 15 centres, including Boyle, Athabasca, Lac La Biche, Glendon, Wainwright, Cold Lake and St. Paul.

He says the medical staff was never consulted about the decision or how it would affect the staff's ability to provide high quality medical service.

AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson confirms that pathology services will end in Bonnyville, adding the retirement of one of pathologists requires that changes be made to ensure patients continue to get the care and treatment they need.

He says AHS and Covenant Health do not consider a solo practice to be a safe or effective way of providing pathology services, so changes have to be made.

Williamson says Bonnyville does not require on-site pathology consultation, which is usually only provided when surgical procedures that require immediate intra-operative pathologist consultation are performed.

While biopsies of many types are performed in Bonnyville, such surgical procedures are not undertaken in Bonnyville, Williamson said Wednesday.

No other changes to laboratory services in Bonnyville are required or planned at this time, Williamson said. Laboratory services will continue to provide clinical support to the site, to local physicians, and to patients as required.

Williamson also said AHS has been meeting with local physicians to discuss pathology services, and listen to their concerns. Another meeting is planned within a week.

But De Freitas says they were told that it would be too difficult to find another pathologist to replace the retiring one, and that would leave too much work for the remaining doctor.

He says the hospital was never given an opportunity to try to find a replacement pathologist.

De Freitas also says AHS told them one and two pathologist labs are an institution of the past, but says the province continues to recruit for both Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray and both have only one pathologist.

He says medical staff are concerned about losing pathologists because biopsies taken locally were often processed with reports being produced in one to five days.

Now, De Freitas said, these biopsies will have to be sent to Edmonton and it could be two to four weeks in getting results back.

He says the staff's ability to talk directly to the pathologist about the best laboratory test to order or interpretation of laboratory results is now going to be much more difficult.

"We feel quite certain that this is just the start of major downgrading of laboratory services in our community," de Freitas said in his letter.

"We have already seen how Alberta Health Services has removed critical testing like microbiology from Westlock and Wainwright, directing these tests to the private corporation Dynalife.

"The medical staff feels that unless we stand up to Alberta Health Services immediately, critical, even potentially lifesaving testing will be lost from our facility."

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