A number of laboratory physicians being transitioned from the private provider Dynalife to the government-owned Alberta Precision Labs believe the process has been unfair in advance of their contracts expiring effective Sept. 1, according to the Alberta Medical Association (AMA).
In a letter sent to Alberta Precision Labs (APL) and Alberta Health Services from the AMA on Aug. 29, the doctors' association wrote that it held a town hall the prior week with 52 of the laboratory physicians currently employed or contracted to Dynalife.
"The overwhelming majority of [Dynalife] physicians believe that an unfair process has been undertaken by APL to provide new terms of an agreement on a 'take it or leave it' basis that are inferior to the agreement that is currently in place with [Dynalife]," the letter reads.
"As such, the vast majority of [Dynalife] physicians will not be signing the new proposed APL contract as requested by Aug. 31."
It was unclear how many physicians signed the new contracts. In a letter sent by the AMA to Dynalife physicians Sept.1, the doctors' association wrote that it understood via polling that "most Dynalife pathologists have not signed the new APL contracts" despite the Aug. 31. deadline.
In a file photo, Alberta Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange speaks at the opening of the emergency room at Peter Lougheed hospital in Calgary on Aug. 22. Earlier this month, LaGrange announced that Dynalife ownership was transferring all staff, operations and physical labs to Alberta Precision Labs. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
There are around 75 lab physicians who work for Dynalife as contractors, which represent around a third of all lab physicians in Alberta, according to Dr. Christopher Naugler, president of the section of laboratory medicine with the AMA.
Despite the midnight deadline, AHS said that physicians may take until Sept. 25 to review the contract and decide whether they wish to sign.
"Whether Dynalife physicians choose to sign the [contract] or not, APL will compensate them for the work that they perform between Sept. 1 and Sept. 25," the health authority wrote in a statement.
The main question of the AMA at this stage, according to Naugler, is what happens to the employment of those who don't sign the contracts on Sept. 26.
"AHS doesn't say one way or another, so the doctors are left under this big cloud of uncertainty," Naugler said, adding he would have concerns about health impacts to Albertans should service be impacted.
CBC News reached out late Friday afternoon to AHS to inquire what would happen to physicians who don't sign their contracts by the deadline.
Earlier this month, Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said AHS had signed a memorandum of understanding that will see Dynalife transfer all of its staff, operations and physical locations to APL by the end of 2023.
That followed months of concerns over waits that sometimes ranged as long as a month to book appointments for routine tests, particularly in Calgary and southern Alberta.
Contracts expired at midnight
In a letter sent to Dynalife contractors on Aug. 28, Dynalife CEO Jason Pincock thanked employees for their services while confirming their contractual agreements would expire at midnight on Aug. 31.
"Given the timing of the operational transfer between AHS/APL and DynaLIFE there has been little time to prepare in advance for this change," he wrote.
In its letter sent Aug. 29, the AMA wrote that the key differences between the existing Dynalife contract and the proposed new APL contract that it wanted included were:
An acknowledgement of a workload limit.
Extra pay if one works over that workload limit, along with the right to refuse extra work.
Pool funds for unfilled full-time equivalent positions that are retained by the medical staff.
Christopher Naugler, president of the AMA section of laboratory physicians. (Submitted by Christopher Naugler)
Naugler, the president of the section of laboratory medicine with the AMA, said lab physicians often are invisible in the health-care system, but are highly trained specialists that oversee all lab tests across Canadian jurisdictions.
But in Alberta, these doctors have faced constant change with different entities operating, especially the public lab systems, Naugler said.
"So doctors, really, are left in a position of not knowing where their jobs will be, who their employer will be," he said. "And there's such competition for lab doctors among provinces, that a concern certainly that my colleagues and I share is that we need to be able to retain and recruit physicians.
"With the amount of uncertainty in the lab system right now, we're worried there may be challenges with that."