Wait times have more than doubled for those looking to get blood tests at Dynacare laboratories in the wake of COVID-19, leaving some in need of services waiting outside in the summer heat.
One Winnipeg senior described two recent visits to Dynacare labs for routine blood tests as nightmarish.
Her first visit was at the Dominion Centre location, a smaller centre only open from 8 a.m. until noon on Saturdays. Her son stood in line for her for over an hour, the 82-year-old woman said, because she has mobility issues and is unable to stand for long periods.
Her most recent visit was to the St. Vital Dynacare super site a week ago at 9 a.m., when there was a lineup of at least 15 people and nowhere to sit.
"This lovely woman, a complete stranger, offered me her spot near the front of the line. Otherwise, there was no way I could have stood for that long," said the woman, who did not want her name published.
Another patient, who was waiting outside the Garden City super site Wednesday afternoon, said she had been waiting in line outside for around 20 minutes and had noticed longer wait times when visiting Dynacare with her mother.
"I don’t use it as much as some people do, but I have a mother that’s 98, and when I have to take her, I stand in line and she waits in the car," said the patient, who asked only to be referred to as Linda.
"It’s kind of tough, but I think it’s all because of the COVID," she said.
Dynacare, which currently owns all facilities in Winnipeg that provide blood collection and urinalysis services outside of hospital-based laboratories, is aware of the increased line-ups, chief scientific officer and Manitoba operations manager Dr. Jenisa Naidoo said.
"These sites were not designed for COVID, our staff are not trained for COVID, so COVID came with a number of different challenges," she said.
Naidoo said the issue is social distancing – waiting rooms at all four of the super sites have been cut down to about 20 per cent capacity to keep people apart, meaning people have to wait in line outside the facility.
Fourteen smaller locations have been forced to remain closed because there is not enough space to work safely in them, she said. That's become "an added burden to the super sites."
“It’s still not a long wait time, 19 minutes on average is not as long as we think it is, but I think it feels much longer when you stand in line in plus-30 weather." — Dr. Jenisa Naidoo
According to Dynacare’s data, the average wait time for patients has jumped from eight minutes in March of this year to 19 minutes at present, but Naidoo acknowledged there would be "outliers" in that data.
"It’s still not a long wait time, 19 minutes on average is not as long as we think it is, but I think it feels much longer when you stand in line in plus-30 weather," she said.
Naidoo said additional staff and extended hours have been set up at the super sites in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the closures.
She said Dynacare has several ways to keep wait times at a minimum, including an online check-in program and a system wherein patients can wait in their car and receive a text when it is their turn to be seen.
However, Naidoo acknowledged that many patients are not regular internet users and may feel that using the texting system will cause them to forfeit their place in line.
Dynacare will be opening pop-up sites to accommodate more patients – one will open in the Henderson Highway area in August, and another will open Thursday at 1295 Pembina Highway.
The decision to close 25 private labs late last year and replace them with four Dynacare super sites raised concerns at the time with local health professionals, who feared the closures would result in less accessibility for those in need. The company had also bought Unicity Laboratory and X-Ray Services two years prior and closed an additional 21 lab sites.
The restrictions on centres due to COVID-19 have actually underlined the need for the larger super sites, Naidoo said.
"Had we not done that, if we didn’t build the four super sites and we left those existing locations, we would’ve been in dire straits," she said.
"Most of the locations we’ve had to close, we would’ve closed because of COVID, and we would’ve had no place to actually see our patients."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.