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COVID-19 compounding staffing crisis in B.C. labs: union

Last Updated Jan 28, 2021 at 9:06 pm PST

FILE - In this March 11, 2020 file photo, a technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples for testing at a laboratory in New York's Long Island. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/John Minchillo

Staff shortages have been an issue in B.C. labs for the past decade

Recruitment, retention, retiring workers are all contributing to the staffing shortages

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the workload for B.C. labs which were already understaffed

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Thousands of COVID-19 tests are being processed every day in British Columbia, putting extra pressure on labs that were understaffed long before the pandemic.

Sheila Vataiki, the labour relations coordinator with the Health Sciences Association of BC, says staff shortages have been an issue for the past decade.

“The concerns with lab workers in B.C. predate COVID, because we are chronically working short-staffed across the province,” she says.

“Many labs around this province are staffing on overtime. We hear a lot about overtime in nursing, but labs, as well as many other of our disciplines, they’re staffed with casuals who are working full-time and then some.”

Vaitaki points out these workers are crucial when it comes to caring for patients, even though their work is often unseen.

“Nothing can happen in the hospital, without lab techs being involved. They’re involved in providing the doctors and nurses, and allied health, with the technical information that they need to make determinations around the kinds of treatments that are required, and the kinds of interventions, and whether or not it’s safe,” she explains.

“We had those shortages before and now, on top of all that work, you’ve superimposed this layer of COVID testing. It’s a very significant issue, and we know that many labs around this province, are staffing on overtime.”

Recruiting and retaining people to fill vacant positions is one problem, another is that about half of the 2,500 people who work in the field are set to retire in the next decade.

The union has been in talks with the province about how to fill vacant positions, and Vataiki says compensation is a key part of that conversation, according to Vaitaki.

“It’s a very competitive industry across the country. Everybody’s competing for the same pool of employees, so you have to offer competitive wages.”