The Combined Laboratory & X-Ray Technologist (CLXT) position at the Swan Hills Healthcare Centre (SHHC) has now been vacant for roughly ten months, leaving the hospital without the full functionality of its medical lab or crucial X-ray imaging. 

As a smaller rural hospital, the SHHC does not enjoy the benefit of having a multitude of different departments to address the many facets of healthcare delivery, as do larger hospitals in city centers. Large hospitals usually have separate lab and diagnostic imaging departments with staff trained for that department’s specific focus. The CLXT position offers a compromise that allows a smaller hospital like the SHHC to successfully perform both of these functions without the need to staff additional departments. 

CLXTs use their specialized skills to play a pivotal role in healthcare, often in rural settings, by contributing to diagnosis, disease prevention, and public health monitoring. Their responsibilities encompass a wide range of tasks, including collecting, preparing, and analyzing patient samples, administering general patient care, and conducting blood tests. These skilled professionals also perform essential medical laboratory tests and electrocardiograms. In the realm of diagnostic imaging, they carry out general radiography exams, specifically X-ray imaging.

CLXTs adhere to rigorous standards and practices as defined by regulatory bodies such as the ACCLXT (Alberta College of Combined Laboratory and X-ray Technicians), CPSA (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta), and HPA (Health Professions Act). Their duties encompass the performance of site-specific manual and automated laboratory procedures, diagnostic imaging examinations, and related responsibilities. This dedication to following established guidelines ensures the accuracy and quality of patient care in accordance with the highest professional standards.

Since the SHHC’s CLXT position became vacant in mid-January, AHS has brought in Medical Lab Assistants. While this is helpful, Lab Assistants are not able to perform all of the duties of a Lab Technologist or facilitate X-ray imaging. These services are crucial to providing quality healthcare, especially in an isolated community like Swan Hills.

As is the case with many healthcare professionals in recent years, the demand for qualified CLXTs is greater than the number of these professionals who are available. This situation makes it difficult to find a candidate for the currently vacant position, particularly as rural healthcare positions are often not as attractive to candidates as those in urban settings.

The Grizzly Gazette contacted AHS to inquire about what steps are being taken to fill this critical position at the SHHC. Unfortunately, the response to our questions was underwhelming at best. 

 In an emailed response to questions from The Grizzly Gazette, we were told: 

“Here’s what I can tell you about the lab in Swan Hills.

• APL is actively recruiting medical lab assistants in Swan Hills. 

• APL currently offers relocation reimbursement to external applicants as well as internal APL candidates applying to hard to recruit positions in rural areas. Additional incentives are also being explored.

• Currently, lab services are available Monday to Friday, 9 am – 3 pm for blood collection and specimen transportation to diagnostic facilities.

• Some on-site point of care testing remains available and is completed by nursing staff as needed.

• APL makes every effort to bring in staff from different locations to assist in other areas where staffing levels are a concern.

• Contingency plans are always in place for patients requiring urgent lab and x-ray services during times when there are staff vacancies.”

In the context of this emailed response, “APL” stands for Alberta Precision Laboratories.

While these aren’t the concrete answers our community would hope for, we also have to understand that multiple rural hospitals across the province face the same issues as the SHHC. Even though it may be of little comfort, we are not alone in our predicament. 

However, this does not mean that Swan Hills has given up. Efforts by Town Council representatives and the SHHC Site Manager are ongoing to work with AHS in finding a solution for our community.

Hopefully, a solution will become available sooner rather than later.

By Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Oct 13, 2023 at 12:30

This item reprinted with permission from   Grizzly Gazette   Swan Hills, Alberta

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