New Brunswick

Private clinics open to partnering with N.B. to address COVID testing backlog

Private clinics say they're willing to partner with the New Brunswick government to help reduce a backlog of COVID-19 tests.

Province reported backlog of about 3,490 PCR test requests Friday

New Brunswick reported a backlog pf about 3,490 requests for tests on Friday, (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Private clinics say they're open to helping the New Brunswick government clear up a worsening backlog in requests for COVID-19 PCR tests.

As the province reported a backlog of about 3,490 requests on Friday, representatives from Distribution Ad Valorem and SRX Health Solutions said the companies would be open to partnering with the government to boost its testing capacity.

"It would be our pleasure to help the government and support the Canadian people in whatever capacity we can," said Stephanie Nazywalskyj, spokesperson for SRX Health Solutions, which operates a COVID-19 testing centre in Moncton, in addition to others across the country.

"It's of huge interest, but whether the government will respond very favourably, we don't know yet."

Marie-Pierre Beaubien, president of Distribution Ad Valorem, said her company would also be open to partnering with the province on testing.

The company operates testing centres at the airports in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, where clients pay a fee to receive either a rapid antigen test or a PCR test.

Currently, PCR test samples have to be sent to a lab in Nova Scotia to be processed, but Beaubien said the company will be able to boost its capacity in the next few days after acquiring a machine that will allow it to independently process PCR tests in Moncton.

Distribution Ad Valorem, which offers PCR testing at New Brunswick's three largest airports, would be open to partnering with the provincial government to bolster its COVID-19 testing capacity, said company president Marie-Pierre Beaubien. (Submitted by Distribution Ad Valorem)

"We haven't had any discussion on [partnering] with Public Health of New Brunswick, but if they do approach us in that case, we'll be open to have discussions on that if we do have the capacity of helping them," she said.

The Department of Health didn't respond Friday when CBC News asked if it was open to partnering with private companies to boost testing capacity in the province.

The province has experienced backlogs in its COVID-19 testing capacity off and on throughout the pandemic. It became significantly worse in recent weeks, when record numbers of new cases were reported almost daily, including 572 on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Public Health reported a backlog of about 2,500 requests in the Saint John region, 450 in the Fredericton region and 150 in the Moncton region. Though the backlog dropped to about 2,200 in the Saint John region on Thursday, it climbed to 750 in the Fredericton region, and 540 in the Moncton region.

In a news release Thursday, the province said more resources and extended hours have been allotted to the Saint John assessment centre to help clear the backlog, and members of the Canadian Red Cross are on site to assist.

Other provinces have seen similar strains on testing, forcing some to limit who they offer lab-based PCR tests to.

Facing the same problem, the Manitoba government announced Wednesday that it had struck a deal with Winnipeg firm BioScision Diagnostics. The company says it has offered to process as many as 1,000 tests per day.

MLAs urge action on combating backlog

As the Omicron variant led to surging case numbers in other parts of the world, the provincial government should have taken notice and bolstered its testing capacity early, said Edmundston-Madawaska Centre MLA Jean-Claude D'Amours, who serves as Opposition health critic for the Liberals.

Even in his riding, where no backlogs have been reported, residents have complained of waiting more than 100 hours to receive results, he said.

D'Amours said turning to the private sector might not be the perfect solution for addressing the backlog, but it might be necessary.

"The first thing that the provincial government needs to do is to look around what the other provinces are doing in the country," D'Amours said.

"And I know that in some cases, they are asking for any resources to help. If those resources are coming from the private sector, is that the perfect solution? Probably not, but what else … can the government present to us that will solve the actual situation?"

Liberal health critic Jean-Claude D'Amours said the government should have acted earlier to bolster its PCR testing capacity. (CBC)

Green Party Leader David Coon said provincial health workers have been working flat out during the pandemic, and the current backlog appears to be a result of the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton hitting a "ceiling" in its testing capacity.

With that, the province should respond by using the Saint John Regional Hospital's lab to analyze samples, Coon said, adding he wasn't opposed to seeking help from the private sector.

"I think at this point, whatever arrangements can be made to ensure that we eliminate the backlogs and keep ahead of the testing should be done," said Coon.

"The sooner we can get the capacity increased for the PCR test, the better. It's an essential tool. It's an essential tool not only to ensure people are isolating, but to ensure people [know when they] can return to to work."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Journalist

Aidan Cox is a journalist for the CBC based in Fredericton. He can be reached at aidan.cox@cbc.ca and followed on Twitter @Aidan4jrn.

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