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Letter to the editor: Re: Ford budget to have “fewer” public health laboratories in Ontario

As our website states “Public Health Ontario keep Ontarians safe and healthy with our partners in government, public health and healthcare”.

To the editor:

As our website states “Public Health Ontario keep Ontarians safe and healthy with our partners in government, public health and healthcare”. PHO has 11 labs across this province and if Premier Ford has his way there may be less or even worse none left in Ontario.

Public Health Labs have been in Ontario for more than 100 years and were taken out of the Ministry of Health in 2008 after the SARS outbreak and incorporated in the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion Act that was born in 2007. This was done to be an arm’s length agency to react faster and more efficient to health care issues in Ontario.

Go back to 2000 when the Walkerton E.coli outbreak occurred. Numerous people died as a result in part back in 1996 when then PC premier Mike Harris closed the MOE Labs and privatized water testing. This may occur again as water testing and other PHO services may be for profit and citizens of Ontario may have to choose between testing their water and putting food on the table.

Currently, our 11 Labs offer 282 tests, do approximately 5.5 million tests per year and act on 10,000 specimens daily. We work closely with our partners namely, hospitals, private labs, clinics and most importantly with the 35 public health units (plus sub offices) in Ontario. We work hand and hand with these PH Units assisting with outbreak testing, STD/AIDs testing, immunization testing, food, malaria, legionella testing, and most importantly water testing.

We also test the drinking water and beach water for all the provincial parks in Ontario. The Thunder Bay lab is responsible for everything from the Manitoba Border to White River and North. Thunder Bay's laboratory also supports the First Nations communities in the north that test samples that Sioux Lookout Meno Hospital forwards our lab for routine and reference testing.

We are not a 9-5, Monday to Friday operation. Our normal operating hours are Monday – Saturday at various hours depending on workload and are available for Sunday, STAT holidays, on call and STAT testing if called upon for outbreak, HIV, water and other testing.

We are dedicated office support, customer service centre, medical technicians/technologists, scientists and others. Just for the record, you won’t see these frontline workers on the sunshine list as well as our local managers.

We do the more specialized/lengthy testing that hospitals or private labs don’t want to do because it is too costly for their budgets and are not profitable for the private sector. These tests include fungus, Zika, tick testing and the list goes on and on.

The people of Ontario deserve to be protected under for a not for profit system. Hopefully, Premier Ford will rethink his plan to dismantle or weaken the Public Health Ontario Laboratories and keep it in the taxpayer’s hands. He shouldn’t roll the dice and let his corporate friends profit in pay for fee service set up in the private sector. Under this scenario, I foresee another Walkerton brewing and Ontarians will pay the price again.

Clayton B McKibbon
Supervisor, Specimen Handling Thunder Bay
OPSEU VP, Local 716

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