Alberta Health Services has reversed its decision to close Morinville’s medical lab following a wave of protest.
AHS put out a three-sentence announcement late Jan. 19 to say it would be maintaining laboratory services at the Morinville Clinic.
The move reversed an announcement it made two days previous that said it would close the clinic’s lab and X-ray services effective Feb. 1 due to low patient volumes, staffing challenges, and a broken X-ray machine.
Grady Semmens of Alberta Precision Laboratories (an AHS subsidiary which runs many of the province’s medical labs) said earlier this week that the proposed closure would allow them to divert staff to larger hospital-based labs in areas such as St. Albert to address staffing shortages.
The clinic hosts about 400 patients a week from the Morinville and Sturgeon County region. The proposed closure would have forced many area residents to drive to St. Albert, Gibbons, or Redwater for many medical tests.
The proposed closure sparked confusion and outrage in the Morinville region, with many residents concerned about its effects on seniors and those unable to drive.
Morinville Mayor Simon Boersma said he saw many protests about the closure on social media, including a Change.org petition to reverse the closure, which drew some 4,515 signatures — equivalent to nearly half the town’s population — in less than two days.
“A lot of seniors don’t have a lot of extra money to taxi in and taxi back out,” Boersma said, and simply loading more patients onto St. Albert didn’t make sense as a solution to a staff shortage.
Posting to Facebook Jan. 19, Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally said he was disappointed by AHS’s closure decision and frustrated residents would have to travel to St. Albert for lab and imaging services.
“AHS’s failure to communicate or collaborate with the community in any meaningful way ahead of ending these services is unacceptable,” Nally said.
In an email, Semmens said his group reversed the planned closure after community members told them they placed high value on local lab service.
"We take this feedback seriously and will work with local stakeholders to ensure health-care services meet the community’s needs."
Boersma said he spoke several times with Nally about the closure, with Nally in turn speaking with Health Minister Jason Copping. Boersma said he was amazed when he got a message from AHS late Jan. 19 that the closure had been cancelled.
“We will have a lab again in the community,” he said.
In a Facebook post later Jan. 19, Nally thanked everyone who signed petitions and wrote letters regarding the closure, and called this reversal “a win for residents of Morinville, Sturgeon County, and Parkland County.”
In an email, Nally said that while he spoke with Copping twice about his concerns on the proposed closure, it was AHS that decided to keep the clinic open.
AHS said its decision means there will be no disruption to lab service at the Morinville Clinic for local residents. It did not say if the clinic’s X-ray machine will be repaired. Semmens previously told The Gazette the clinic's machine was considered too old and expensive to repair or replace.
On Thursday, Semmens said his department is reviewing X-ray services in Morinville. The nearest functioning X-ray clinic is in St. Albert.
Boersma said he now wants to meet with Nally, AHS, and area mayors to determine what it would take to keep the lab open and restore X-ray service — something that should have happened before any of this occurred. That could mean fundraising for a new X-ray machine, as some communities have done.
“Obviously we want Alberta Health to step up, but we want to make sure the X-ray machine gets repaired,” Boersma said.
Semmens said his department will continue to seek new hires to fill vacancies at its labs.