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Jamie West, Sudbury MPP, Queen Park media room screen shot, April 17, 2024

Opposition speaks out against public health lab closures

By Randy Thoms Apr 19, 2024 | 7:11 PM

There is concern about a plan to close some Public Health Ontario laboratories.

Six are on the chopping block, including two in northern Ontario.

The closure of facilities in Timmins and Sudbury will leave labs in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie as the only ones in the north.

NDP MPP Jamie West says now is not the time to be closing labs.

“We just went through a pandemic. They were the ones who tested all the COVID samples,” notes West.

“When you’re talking about areas that rely on well water, and people who are in fixed incomes, or people who make minimum wage, or people in precarious work, when they’re not able to have easy access to free testing of their water, they make choices where they don’t have it tested.”

The union representing workers at the centres targeted for closure began raising the alarm bells earlier this year.

J.P. Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Service Union, calls the move short-sighted and dangerous.

“These labs are a vital part of our public health infrastructure. Closing them will undermine our ability to detect and prevent the spread of disease and compromise our response to future health crises. Outbreaks could go unchecked. We could have another Walkerton disaster, or even worse,” says Hornick.

The labs collect and process thousands of water samples and medical tests each day.

Hornick says centralizing testing to a few locations will increase travel time and compromise the integrity of samples, putting people and communities at risk.

An audit of Public Health Ontario labs in 2023 by Ontario’s Auditor General found that three of the eleven sites performed tests on only 9 to 20% of the samples received.

The rest was transferred to other sites.

The Auditor noted efforts to make the labs and testing more efficient started in 2017, but no decisions were finalized.