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Hospital lab held together with tape, leaked document says

Flooring repaired with tape, exam rooms too small for wheelchairs or stretchers, air conditioners duct taped in place — conditions at two Manitoba hospital labs are putting patients and workers' safety at risk, an accidentally leaked document says.

Health officials say diagnostic laboratories in Morris, Thompson in dire need of renovation

Laboratories in Thompson and Morris have been identified by health officials as needing complete renovations. (Associated Press)

Flooring repaired with tape, exam rooms too small for wheelchairs or stretchers, air conditioners duct taped in place — conditions at two hospital labs are putting patients and workers' safety at risk, an accidentally leaked document says.

The diagnostic laboratories at the Thompson and Morris hospitals were singled out by Diagnostic Services Manitoba in its 2017-18 Annual Health Plan as labs in critical need of complete renovation.

While work has been done on some problems, CBC News has learned there's still no funding to fix many of the issues as of this month. In the case of Thompson, health officials have been asking for the repairs for almost a decade.

The 2016 document described the Morris lab as in "very poor physical condition," with flooring in such bad shape it made "cleaning impossible." Tape was being used to secure laminate and fill air gaps after an air conditioner was installed a few years ago.

"These conditions are unacceptable and fail to meet basic lab accreditation requirements," says the document, submitted to Manitoba Health officials in June 2016.

Issues were brought up many times: union

When the document was written, the air quality at the Thompson lab had deteriorated to the point it impacted the ability to provide test results. Humidity levels could cause machines to shut down and poor lighting was impacting workers' ability to interpret tests, according to the document.

The lab cannot accommodate further growth — including offering new rapid tuberculosis testing — without a redevelopment of the entire diagnostics department, it says. 

The union that represents lab workers in Thompson had not seen the document, but it had been told about the issues, according to Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals. He reviewed notes from the hospital's health and safety committee meeting, which he said referenced issues with space and air quality concerns. 

"These issues have been brought up many times," he said. 

"My question comes: where is the body that is saying no, that we don't have the money to do that, and that is where my concern is."

Heating, air conditioning being fixed in Thompson

Officials with Diagnostic Services Manitoba declined an interview and refused to acknowledge whether it requested the renovations again in its 2018-19 annual health plan, saying that is internal information.

While neither lab has undergone a full renovation, a spokesperson for DSM said fixes were done to the Morris lab during the period the document was written, including repairs to the baseboard and flooring. Oxygen is only provided to its radiology suite through portable tanks. 

In Thompson, the heating, ventilation and air conditioning renovations were approved for funding and are expected to be complete in March. The rest of the requested renovations are still pending, including any expansion of the lab.

The spokesperson said the problems in Morris were caused by "expected wear and tear over time."

"Improvements to the flooring were identified in an internal audit in late March 2016. Steps were taken in April to improve the conditions of the floor and baseboards," the spokesperson said. 

Diagnostics are critically important, says union president

The document was obtained by CBC News after it was temporarily posted online by accident.

While Moroz admits that diagnostics don't have the flash of other departments in a hospital, it is a cornerstone of the health system that cannot be ignored.

"We don't take a step in Manitoba health care without a diagnosis," he said.  "They are critically important."

The annual health plan obtained by CBC is created internally each year by DSM and other Crown agencies to provide a high-level overview of its priorities to government for the upcoming fiscal year. The details were brought forth in the major capital projects portion of the 74-page report.

It outlined the context of the projects, scope, the factors driving the need and anticipated outcomes. It did not provide the cost related to the projects. 

Failing infrastructure

The plan identified the lab in Thompson as its top capital project, noting it had infrastructure that was failing, which had "become a significant risk to quality and safety."

Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, says that diagnostic testing is crucial for Manitoba's healthcare system. (CBC)
This was the eighth year that DSM had requested a renovation of the Thompson lab, the document says.

Moroz says given the timeline, the former NDP government has to shoulder some of the blame. The NDP lost power in the provincial election held two months before the document was submitted. 

"If it is bad as the description say they are, and certainly DSM internal audits say it is in critical need of infrastructure repair, [what] if it was looked at more seriously say on the first or second go?" said Moroz.

"If it was a small fix six years ago then we could have managed it. My question then becomes, why would we not have invested in it at that time?"

The laboratory at the northern hospital has not received any serious renovations since it was built in 1961, the document says. However, the number of tests being performed has increased 240 per cent since 2003.

The document also says the diagnostic imaging program at the hospital has increased 30 per cent over in recent years and only one of the two radiology suites are easily accessible for patients in a wheelchair or stretcher. 

"This is considered a significant patient safety issue," it says.

Former government says it's not to blame

The NDP's health critic Andrew Swan chalked his government's lack of action to prioritizing projects. He said he could not recall any specific concerns being brought up in relation to either lab.

NDP MLA Andrew Swan says his government had to balance priorities while in power. (CBC)
"Clearly these two we didn't get to," he said. "Any government in power has a large number of priorities to deal with."

He told CBC News that he hopes the current government will fund the full renovations for both labs. 

An interview with Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen was not granted. In an email statement, a spokesperson for the minister said when they took power there were many facilities which had deficiencies and needed upgrades.

"Last year, we invested $30 million in repairs to cover the most pressing capital issues at health care facilities and personal care homes in the province such as lab upgrades, roof repairs, heating/cooling/ventilation system work, mould remediation or window replacements," said Amy McGuinness.

"Requests from all organizations are examined and prioritized. Further projects would be announced only following financial approval."

Beginning April 1, DSM will be rolled into Shared Health, a new provincial health organization with the purpose of centralizing clinical and business services for the regional health authorities.

A spokesperson for DSM said all future planning for lab and imaging services with be evaluated and co-ordinated through this entity.

About the Author

Kristin Annable

Reporter

Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at kristin.annable@cbc.ca

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