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MEDIA RELEASE: Ontario's Medical Laboratory System is Collapsing

HAMILTON ON (January 11, 2022): “Today’s press conference with Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Matthew Anderson, President & CEO of Ontario Health reveals a disconnect between the perception of current laboratory capacity and the situation on the ground in our laboratories.

Ontario’s medical laboratory system is collapsing. We are seeing hospitals turn away cancer tests to other labs; seniors wait 3 weeks to get bloodwork, sometimes lining up outside in the cold for hours; turnaround times go from days to weeks so physicians send patients to Emergency Departments, further overwhelming hospitals; Medical Laboratory Technologists in rural areas fear a single illness will crush their tiny team; desperate patients threatening and bullying to get test results. Lab professionals bear the brunt of this systemic failure.

Responding to questions today about PCR testing capacity and schools, CEO Matthew Anderson indicated they have created a “reduction in demand” on the laboratory system which can be used now to open symptomatic testing to Ontario’s 2 million students and approximately 140,000 teachers and early childhood educators. Although take-home PCR tests may be collected at home, every single sample that goes through a school will need to be processed, analyzed, and validated in a lab.

I am concerned about this extreme disconnect between what the government is saying and the lived reality of medical laboratory professionals. There has been no lull in testing. During a slight decrease in COVID-19 testing, medical laboratories have been drowning, trying to catch up on testing for other conditions.

Mr. Anderson talked about the difference between Health Human Resources issues and temporary shortages due to illness. Laboratories are experiencing both. 87% of Ontario laboratories are now short staffed because of medical laboratory professionals self-isolating due to COVID-19 infection. This is terrifying given that 70% of Ontario laboratories started COVID-19 short-staffed.[1] Medical laboratory professionals have been working overtime for two years straight without relief. Some are resigning or opting for retirement or other careers as a result.

This government has been incredibly reactive during this pandemic. However, much of what we have seen are band-aid solutions and half-measures. This tepid approach by past provincial leadership for decades is what has gotten us into this dire situation we need our government to take decisive action now.

Long-term thinking is required to fix it.

We have called on the Ontario government to invest $6.2M over 4 years, which would include the same externship programs now being announced for other professions. Medical laboratory professionals are perpetually forgotten in healthcare decision-making. We have been understaffed and underfunded for decades. While we are a smaller group than doctors or nurses, our healthcare system would grind to a halt without testing results. Including medical laboratory professionals in short- and long-term health human resource planning is essential to the survival of our healthcare system and all Ontarians.”

- Michelle Hoad, CEO, Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario.

[1] Based on a survey of lab leaders and professionals in May 2020.

2022.01.10 Media Release - Ontario's Medical Laboratory System is Collapsing
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