June 21, 2024

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“Short-sighted and dangerous” – Public Health Ontario Lab workers are sounding the alarm about potential lab closures

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TORONTO, April 17, 2024 /CNW/ – OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick and members working at Public Health Ontario (PHO) Labs were at Queen’s Park today to sound the alarm about the potential closure of six (6) out of 11 PHO labs in Ontario, and the risk it poses for all Ontarians – especially rural families and communities.

“If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that public health should never be taken for granted,” said Hornick. “Like many choices made by this government, if Premier Ford decides to shutter the doors of these 6 labs it will be short-sighted and dangerous.”

PHO currently has a plan to close the laboratory sites in Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Orillia, Hamilton, Kingston, and Peterborough as part of its ‘modernization plan’. In December 2023, the Auditor General endorsed this plan and recommended that the labs be closed within 12 months.

Combined, these labs collect and process thousands of water samples and time-sensitive medical tests each day. They are integral to our public health infrastructure in Ontario.

“We know that much of our work happens behind the scenes. Unless there is a crisis, many people may not even realize that our labs exist. Until a disaster like Walkerton or a health crisis like COVID-19 emerges, our work goes unseen,” said Casey McGuire, a PHO Lab worker and OPSEU/SEFPO Blood Services and Diagnostics sector executive member.

The closure of these 6 community-based PHO labs will increase health inequities and endanger rural families and communities. It will also undermine our ability to detect and prevent the spread of disease and compromise our response to future health crises.

“We catch contamination or concerns with your water before you drink it or swim in it. We identify an outbreak such as Measles before it spreads and help health care providers with diagnosis so treatment can begin swiftly. We cannot do that if you get rid of us,” added McGuire.

Workers at the affected lab sites and members of their communities launched a petition campaign to stop the closures. Today, approximately 9,000 signatures were delivered to Queen’s Park but more continue to come in every day. The delivery coincides with National Medical Laboratory Week, where we recognize the important role these professionals play in promoting the health and safety of everyone in Ontario.

“During the pandemic these workers were hailed as heroes. Now, instead of being celebrated they find themselves on the chopping block. It is unconscionable,” added Hornick. “Make no mistake, lives are at risk. To meet demand and keep our communities safe, we need to expand public health lab testing capacity – not cut it.”

OPSEU/SEFPO calls on the Ford Government to stop the closure of the six labs and invest in the public health infrastructure needed to keep Ontarians safe and healthy.

SOURCE Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/SEFPO)

For further information: please contact Katie Arnup, OPSEU/SEFPO Communications at [email protected] or 647-881-2939

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