Manitoba

Winnipeg man who is deaf-blind, physician protest widespread diagnostic lab closures

A Winnipeg man who is deaf and blind says the upcoming closure of nearly half of the city’s diagnostic labs will make things harder for people with disabilities, but the private company that owns the labs says the changes will improve overall service.

Dynacare to close 26 of 54 labs, create 4 larger 'supersites' in Winnipeg

Magnus Kincaid wants more than a 'Band-Aid' solution for folks who face more challenges in getting to appointments. (Warren Kay/CBC)

A Winnipeg man who is deaf and blind says the upcoming closure of nearly half of the city's diagnostic labs will make things harder for people with disabilities, but the private company that owns the labs says the changes will improve overall service.

Dynacare, a Brampton, Ont. based medical company, is consolidating 26 of its 54 diagnostic labs and creating four larger, newer and more accessible "supersites." 

The new sites — to be located in Unicity, St. Vital, Garden City and Tuxedo — will be bigger and newer with upgraded technology. The changes will happen between December and January of 2020, leaving the city with 32 sites in total.

"I think it's a hell of an idiot move. Because they're not thinking. It's probably the capital, saving money? But it's going to be a massive headache," said Magnus Kincaid, who has been deaf and blind for several years following an incident while serving in the Canadian military.

He said one doctor's appointment can take up his entire day: He has to plan days in advance for the type of transit he'll take, who will accompany him and then work around their availability. Another appointment to get a lab test done will likely mean another full day of planning and relying on others, he said.

But there isn't always support available when he needs it. Last week he took a cab to an appointment at a clinic on McPhillips Street which cost a total of $85. 

"It's going to be a headache for everyone. If you are sighted, if you have all your faculties, all your senses, it's going to be a headache. But for someone like me, it's going to be a big pain," he said.

Magnus Kincaid wants more than a 'Band-Aid' solution for folks who face more challenges in getting to appointments. (Warren Kay/CBC)

'Improve customer and employee experience'

Dynacare says the consolidation will streamline lab collection service and bring staff together — many of whom currently work alone at labs across the city.

"Our reason is to actually improve our customer and employee experience, improve the facility, improve workflow and have more sites to have blood drawn at particular sites so we improve wait times as well," said Dr. Jenisa Naidoo, chief scientific officer and vice president of clinical development and quality for Dynacare.

No jobs will be lost during the transition, Naidoo added. Blood and urine samples will be picked up from each site and processed at Dynacare's main laboratory on King Edward Street. 

She said the supersites will have more phlebotomy (blood draw) stations and patients can use an app to book a time for blood work so they don't have to wait. She understands there will be an adjustment period as many locations close.

"No patient will have to move more than a five kilometere radius because we moved strategically and we closed strategically," she said, adding the new sites will be more accessible to people with disabilities.

Naidoo says Dynacare hopes to offer a transitional home service so that patients can "get used to the idea of going to the collection site."

"House calls are a great idea," said Kincaid. "It's a good gesture, for sure, but I think they should extend it, and come up with a solution, not just a little Band-Aid."
Magnus Kincaid, 41, who is deaf and blind, says the closure of nearly half of Winnipeg's labs will make life more challenging for many. (Warren Kay/CBC )

'Unnecessary obstacle'

A physician at Citiplace Mall says the loss of its Dynacare lab will severely impact the patients, which include people with mental illness, homeless and transient folks, newcomers to Canada, elderly people and people with disabilities. 

"I am upset, I'm disappointed, I'm frustrated, and most importantly I'm very worried. I worry for my patients," said Dr. Michael Hochman, family physician at Eaton Place Medical Centre.

"Primary care is supposed to be collaborative care that involves a number of providers and this is an unnecessary obstacle to providing appropriate, quality care. And I feel that this seems like a business decision and not a moral decision, from what the lab plans to do." 

Given the vast number of patients he has with mental illness and addiction concerns, he said he worries that the requisitions for bloodwork and other tests simply won't make it to an off-site lab, even if it's only a kilometre away.

Dynacare owns and operates all diagnostic services in the city of Winnipeg, except for in hospitals (CBC)

He also worries for his elderly patients and patients with disabilities, and the delays that come with relying on others to get them to another location.

Hochman finds Dynacare's message "slightly disingenuous" in that he believes the changes won't benefit all patients at all locations. He describes his patients as "more unwell" than those in suburban locations, and many require regular monthly to yearly bloodwork.

The Dynacare lab at Citiplace will be integrated into the Winnipeg Clinic on St. Mary's Avenue. 

"It's five or six blocks, which for you or I isn't hard or very challenging, but if you're in a wheelchair, a walker, had to book now two Handi-Transits, or simply had other things to do, your labwork may no longer be your priority."

Concerns to be handled case-by-case

Adding to his frustration is Dynacare's failure to consult, he said. 

"My clinic offered this lab zero dollars rent to stay. So we extended an olive branch, trying to understand their perspective and they did not even consider it or allow a conversation."

A spokesperson for Dynacare — which took over lab company Unicity Laboratory and X-ray Services in 2017 — said conversations are ongoing with affected physicians, and concerns about patients will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but Winnipeg has an inordinate amount of labs for its size.

"Regina has only five collection sites. Saskatoon has five. Calgary has a far bigger population than Winnipeg. And they have only 18 collection sites for a population of 1.6 million. And Edmonton has 24 collection sites for a population of 1.4 million," said Dr. Naidoo. 

Its seven other sites in the province outside of Winnipeg will remain open.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said that Dynacare's private lab model is part of modernizing health care for Manitobans. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Change inevitable

Hochman said he's not happy that the Manitoba government has allowed Dynacare to monopolize lab services, despite the fact it has happened in other provinces too.

"It is also disappointing in a country of universal healthcare that we allow people to profit off of people's blood and treat people as customers."

But Manitoba's health minister is in favour of the changes.

"Privately owned laboratories have been part of the health system for years and years, both here and throughout the country. We are focused on results, as we continue to do the necessary work to transform and modernize Manitoba's health-care system," wrote Minister Cameron Friesen in a statement.

But Kincaid wonders how much thought went into what it will cost Manitobans like him.

"To get out of bed just to plan your day around one appointment? It's a lot at times," he said.

"Don't take anything for granted. Be grateful for what you got. Because you don't know what tomorrow may bring."

A Winnipeg man who is deaf and blind says the upcoming closure of nearly half of the city's diagnostic labs will make things harder for people with disabilities. 1:39