Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

LifeLabs to move testing to Surrey, union warns of longer wait for results

Technicians were advised this week that Life Labs is laying off workers from the Victoria Reference Laboratory and moving most of its microbiology testing to Surrey
LifeLabs’ Victoria Reference Laboratory on Markham Street, near Camosun College’s Interurban campus. VIA GOOGLE STREET VIEW

The union representing LifeLabs workers is warning that patients could see longer wait times for test results if plans by the company to move its microbiology lab to Surrey from Victoria come to fruition.

The B.C. General Employees’ Union, representing about 1,200 LifeLabs employees in the province, advised technicians Wednesday that LifeLabs has given written notice of plans to move most of the microbiology-patient testing to the Cam Coady Building in Surrey.

LifeLabs has said it will lay off workers from two worksites — the Victoria Reference Laboratory and the Kamloops Reference Laboratory, the union said in an email to members.

The BCGEU said 16 full-time workers would be affected, including 13 in Victoria, and a number of temporary positions will not be renewed.

Staff in Victoria have been told the microbiology lab is shutting down Oct. 1 and the layoffs will take effect on Dec. 31. An offer of buyouts and exit packages is expected.

The next meeting between the company and union is set for July 9.

“As BCGEU members these workers have ­protections under their collective agreement that will help mitigate the impacts such as 60 days’ notice and the opportunity to discuss adjustment measures,” BCGEU president Paul Finch said in a statement.

The job losses are expected to include five medical laboratory technologists in microbiology, five laboratory technical assistants in analytical support, and three laboratory technical assistants in specimen management in Victoria.

Two medical laboratory technologists and a laboratory technical assistant will lose their jobs in Kamloops.

All samples collected from patients on the Island — whether it’s urine to test for urinary tract infections, throat swabs to test for strep throat or cultures to look for sexually transmitted diseases — are currently sent to the Victoria Reference Laboratory in the ­Vancouver Island Tech Park for processing, according to a technician who spoke on the promise of ­anonymity.

Those blood samples, biopsies and cultures are then sorted to go to separate chemistry, hematology or microbiology labs within the Victoria Reference Laboratory — or in the case of biopsies, for example, they might be sent to hospitals including St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, or B.C. Cancer.

The closure of the microbiology lab in the Victoria Reference Laboratory is driven by new technology in Surrey that can process the samples with fewer workers, said the technician, who added that workers are worried about patient care.

To deliver the samples from Vancouver Island to Surrey would add at least six hours to the time spent waiting for test results, she said “but then in adverse weather conditions, when the ferries get shut down, who knows — it could be 24 hours … and then what happens if there’s things that expire?”

LifeLabs says chemistry, coagulation, hematology, and urinalysis routine tests typically have a turnaround time of 24 hours after receipt in the lab. Routine microbiology and parasitology tests generally have turnaround times of 72 hours after receipt in the lab.

The technician estimates 300 to 400 urine cultures are processed a day in Victoria, along with 50 to 100 strep-throat swabs, depending on the season, and more than 100 sexually transmitted infection swabs.

LifeLabs and BCGEU are negotiating a collective agreement.

The Health Ministry and LifeLabs were not immediately available to comment.

[email protected]

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]