Lab patients angry with long wait times

Computer systems switch contributes to lengthy line-ups.

Patients are facing more than the sting of the needle at Interior Health’s lab at the top of Tank Hill in Salmon Arm.

Long waits have become commonplace and what Interior Health sees as a later-than-normal seasonal peak, compounded by a new computer system, is painted in more serious terms by some patients.

Some are so fed up with the long waits they are leaving without getting tests their doctors have ordered – people like Fraser Gray, a diabetic, who wears an insulin pump.

“I have a weekly standing order because one of the meds I am on can get particularly nasty with the kidneys; they have to monitor that I am not getting kidney damage,” he says, noting that in the past three weeks he waited well over an hour before getting the blood test that takes about three minutes.

Last week was worse.

Gray, who has a bad back and finds sitting in the lab chairs very difficult, tried three times to get in for his test, giving up each time.

Last Monday, Gray arrived at 9:30 a.m. and took the card bearing number 43 from the peg. He says staff were calling number 18.

“I couldn’t wait that long, when you consider they open at 7 and by 9:30 they’ve only called 18,” says Gray.

Wednesday, April 18, Gray arrived at the lab at 11 a.m. to find an even longer wait.

“They were lined up outside the door,” he says. “Not only was there no seating, there was no parking and people were standing in the doorway waiting to get in.”

After giving up again, Gray made another attempt Friday, thinking he would arrive early enough to be at the front of the line.

“I got there at 7:30 and again it was standing-room-only, no seats, and the number I would have got was 33,” he says. “They keep telling me it’s because of a new computer program and that they have to re-enter everything. Another time we’re told it’s quite busy because it’s the end of the flu season. And it goes on and on.”

Gray lives on a disability pension and says the three 90-kilometre round trips from his Sunnybrae home last week probably cost him in the neighbourhood of $50 in gas alone.

Gray’s friend Liz Bedford calls the waits excruciating and says she is thrilled her husband who had quadruple bypass in Vancouver no longer needs to go to the lab every week.

“Down there it’s boom, boom, boom and you’re done,” she says. “Here you need to take a sleeping bag.”

Bedford says about a month ago, one technician took her blood sample while another was updating the computer.

“If a system was being switched over, let people know or send someone in to do it so the technicians can do their damn job,” she says.

While acknowledging there have been some delays, Marty Woods, director of operations IH laboratories, blamed the long waits on seasonal peaks being a bit later this year.

He says the new computer system has added extra work in order for staff to catch up on standing orders, but maintains it is temporary. As well, he adds, extra staff have been brought in.

“Two-and-a-half hours is not a standard we reach for. We have a complement and can bring in some additional casuals, but that contingent of casuals is limited,” he says. “There’s a shortage of lab staff across the country.”

Woods is eyeing Salmon Arm as a possible site for a new program that is being piloted in Creston.

Patients who have standing orders, totalling something like 50 to 60 per cent of regular lab visitors, register themselves by entering their name, birthdate and personal health number – a process Woods says is working reasonable well.

“We will conclude the pilot in the near future and we’re looking at bringing one of those kiosks into Salmon Arm,” he says. “That being the case, we alleviate some of the work the lab staff have to do now and that would allow them to focus on the blood collection piece.”