"High alert": Medical group warns protests could disrupt lab work in Toronto

Feb 5 2022, 11:25 pm

A Toronto health organization is on “high alert” after being warned of possible disruptions to routes used by toxicology teams on Saturday. 

The teams need to be able to travel to and from the lab to distribute blood products, test results, and more.

Inside, medical laboratory technologists are working away — often on double shifts — to interpret samples from healthcare centres, running COVID-19 tests and millions of other results.

“We talk about, ‘Well, let’s add more hospital beds. Let’s do this. Let’s do that,’ but don’t forget there’s this whole lab that is actually the heart of healthcare,” says Michelle Hoad, Chief Executive Officer of the Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario (MLPAO).

“Anything you do in healthcare — whether it’s surgeries, whether it’s being treated — all of those tests get done through the lab.” 

She and her colleagues are worried the Freedom Convoy in downtown Toronto and subsequent congestion could impact toxicology screening routes, causing delays. 

“That type of delay could impact treatment for a patient. It could impact what the doctor does,” she says. 

The MLPAO also accepts blood from couriers who transfer blood and blood products. If their routes were delayed, it could be detrimental, says Hoad.

“So far it hasn’t been a problem, but if it continues, it could be an issue,” she says. 

“It’s something that’s on our radar right now and everyone is on high alert.”

There have been no known disruptions to toxicology routes yet, and Hoad expects to learn more about how the convoy impacted labs on Sunday.

But she reinforces the importance of maintaining open access to all healthcare centres, labs included.

“Seventy per cent of what the doctor does or diagnosis is decided by lab results, so we want to make sure that labs are able to still be functional, still able to access blood, still able to access products,” she says.

They’re not usually concerned about route disruptions at all, so this is just one more weight on an already-burdened system. 

Hoad says 91 per cent of their labs are short-staffed, and over 90 per cent of their employees are working double shifts. Even before the pandemic, 70 per cent were short-staffed already.

“It’s just additional stress that the lab doesn’t exactly need,” she says. 

“They want to make sure they’re able to go in and be 100 per cent focused on interpreting results accurately. Having a convoy of people and trucks outside of the healthcare centre is not something that’s going to help us.”

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