Massive lab contract backs NDP into privatization corner

A looming deadline for a $3-billion contract for medical lab services in the Edmonton area is pushing the NDP into a corner when it comes to public versus private health care in Alberta.

NDP on verge of awarding contract that would expand privatization of lab services

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman the provincial government has tightened the rules to ensure the awarding of sole-sourced contracts are properly documented and approved. (CBC)

A looming deadline for a $3-billion contract for medical lab services in the Edmonton area is pushing the NDP into a corner when it comes to public versus private health care in Alberta.

"It is a huge file that they need to get on top of really early on," says Elisabeth Ballermann with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 1,200 employees at hospitals and private medical laboratories across Edmonton.

Last fall, the province named an Australian-based company as the preferred provider of lab services in the Edmonton zone.

Sonic Healthcare is pegged to take over all services provided by publicly funded labs in hospitals operated by Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health, as well as services provided by the private company DynaLife.

Lab services should be considered a critical public service rather than offered to a for- profit company, says Elisabeth Ballermann. (CBC)
​According to a statement issued by AHS in April, Sonic Healthcare was chosen because of its broad international experience and expertise and was "considered the best fit with AHS culture and values."  

DynaLife appealed the decision, forcing AHS to appoint a panel to review whether the 15-year contract had been awarded fairly. 

Alberta Health Services CEO Vickie Kaminski is reviewing the recommendations of the appeal panel, according to spokesman Kerry Williamson.

The current contract with DynaLife expires in 2016.

HSAA has been lobbying successive health ministers to back away from increasing the privatization of lab services to no avail, Ballermann said.

"If I had my dream list come true, it would be that the minister of health would say this is a critical public service, rather than putting it out to a for-profit operation," she said.

Alberta's new health minister, Sarah Hoffman, said the decision on what happens next with the contract is up to Alberta Health Services, though she is being regularly updated.

"We need to make sure we're taking careful consideration of these decisions in the days ahead to make sure we can provide stability of course, and to try to offer publicly funded health care whenever possible," Hoffman said.

Ballermann is urging Hoffman to step in.

"We do know that previous ministers haven't been shy about reaching into the system to say this will and won't happen."

Hoffman said she can't comment on whether the tendering process can be reversed or stopped at this late stage.

"With the procurement process there are legalities that need to be considered," she said.


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