Alberta NDP may allow health lab monopoly in Edmonton

The Alberta New Democrats may not stop Alberta Health Services from signing a $3 billion contract privatizing all Edmonton area lab services under one company.

Dynalife is the current provider of diagnostic lab services in Edmonton, but their contract expires in March 2016. In 2013, AHS announced plans to seek a new provider for those services and ultimately chose Australian-based Sonic Healthcare as their “preferred provider”.  The new contract would also see Sonic Healthcare take over lab services provided by Covenant Health and AHS.

While an Alberta Health Services document released by the NDP shows current services provided by Dynalife are not financially sustainable, in 2013, former NDP health critic David Eggen said hiring one lab company to be a single provider would weaken public healthcare.

“For that whole sector of our public health system to be handed over to a single private monopoly it just leads to control issues,” said Eggen.

According to AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson, a letter of intent has only been sent to Sonic Healthcare.

“This is the next step in an open Request for Proposals (RFP) process designed to build a strong lab services model for Edmonton and area,” Williamson says in an email to 630 CHED.

Dynalife filed a vendor appeal in November 2014 and CEO Jason Pincock is hopeful of the panel’s recommendations.

“Obviously, we believe that there were some very fundamental flaws in the process and the fact that the decision has taken this long I think is evidence of the complexity of the issues involved,” says Pincock.

In the 2015 spring election campaign, the NDP promised to stop furthering privatization of Alberta health care.

In an email to 630 CHED News, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says the government has taken a clear position on privatization, but is also aware of the need for stability in the system.

“I have been working with my leadership and with AHS to build a clear understanding of where this RFP is at and exactly what it means for patients, health care providers, and Alberta’s taxpayers,” says Hoffman.

“There are legalities in any procurement process including this one and missteps could could create serious liabilities for the government – we are proceeding cautiously, but with the best interests of Albertans at heart.”

University of Alberta law professor Tamara Buckwold says that the fact that AHS is awaiting the outcome of Dynalife’s challenge to the RFP process tends to indicate that AHS is likely not contractually committed to Sonic Healthcare at this point.

“Even if AHS and Sonic did formally agree to negotiate terms, it’s relatively unlikely that AHS would be found liable for breach of a binding agreement to negotiate,” says Buckwold. “I say that for two reasons: One, is that the law in this is very unclear and usually Canadian courts don’t find those agreements binding. And secondly, it would depend on the facts and we’d have to consider a lot more facts including the terms of all the exchanges between AHS and Sonic to have any sense of what might be involved.”

As of July 7, 2015, Williamson says the vendor panel for Dynalife’s appeal has completed its review and AHS president and CEO Vicki Kaminski will make a final decision.


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