Carolyn Black has been through a lot since receiving a melanoma diagnosis, but accessing tests at the Shuswap Outpatient Laboratory in Salmon Arm has been an unexpected pain.
Black was diagnosed in June 2019 with skin cancer that had metastasized to her lymph nodes. She began receiving treatment at the cancer clinic in Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
Her intravenous treatment required getting blood tests beforehand, a maximum of two days in advance but optimally one.
Because she was initially living in Kamloops and also underwent two surgeries, she went to an Interior Health outpatient lab in Kamloops and then one in Kelowna. One was first come, first served, the other a mix of drop-ins and appointments. She did not have to wait at either.
She has since moved back to Salmon Arm. Because she had a treatment coming up that Friday, she tried phoning the lab several times the preceding Monday but the phone was always busy. She tried again Tuesday morning, but no luck. Because the IH website said the lab was open till 4:30 p.m., she dropped by just after 4 but signs on the window said it closed at 4 p.m.
“I decided I’d better make a strong effort the next day,” she said, pointing out that one of the blood samples had to be taken before 9 a.m. Thursday.
Wednesday she stopped by and there were lots of people. Those to the west of the front door – a short line of three or four people – had appointments. A much longer lineup to the east – 15 or 20 people – was made up of drop ins.
People in line told her she couldn’t make an appointment by phone or online; the only way to do it would be in person. She was told if she needed an appointment, she should have made it two weeks earlier.
Black said a woman at the front was with her mother who had brought a cane but not her walker.
“They’re at the front of the line, but it took two hours. We’re talking summer, it’s hot and there are no chairs, which just seemed ridiculous to me.”
When a staff member came outside, Black, who has not been feeling well during treatment, asked if she were to arrive at 8 a.m. when the lab opened, was it likely she could get in relatively quickly. She was told there could be 100 people ahead of her.
Her next call was to staff at the cancer clinic in Vernon to explain she didn’t know how she could get the blood work done in time for her Friday appointment, unless she drove to Kamloops early in the morning. They were able to accommodate her.
“There’s something seriously wrong with the system with people waiting outside – people in line were frustrated,” she said of Salmon Arm.
She said she knows people in the medical profession are also frustrated, and she surmised it can’t be easy for the staff working at the lab.
Black emphasized she has been receiving very good care during her treatment, particularly from the staff at the cancer clinic in Vernon.
On Aug. 25, a day after the interview, Interior Health issued a news release stating that online booking of lab appointments was being launched in Salmon Arm.
It said patients must be registered users of MyHealthPortal to book a lab appointment. It suggested going to www.interiorhealth.ca/myhealthportal to learn how to enrol. It also noted if you have not added your email address to your electronic medical record, or if you’re not sure, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll free, Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. PST, 1-844-870-4756.
Another resident, who wished to remain anonymous, called the Observer five days later regarding difficulties with the new online booking. She said she’d prefer to line up, but she doesn’t know what will happen in the winter.
Black, however, is pleased she is now able to book online. She tried the health portal after the Observer sent her the information and, although she was unable to book before her immediate tests, she was able to book an appointment in two weeks.
She said it’s good news, but notes the problem with long lineups for drop-ins seems to be an ongoing issue.
In response to Black’s experience at the Salmon Arm lab, Interior Health sent an email response on Aug. 26 referring to staff shortages and COVID-19.
“Recruitment of laboratory professionals remains a challenge across Interior Health and nationally and we continue to work with our HR recruitment team to find viable solutions. On top of this, Salmon Arm has been particularly short staffed during the past week. Planning is underway to help assist with patient flow,” the email stated.
“As well, COVID pandemic regulations put in place for patient safety have prevented labs from seeing the same volumes of patients as pre-COVID.”