EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: Doctors worried about how pathology changes will affect patients

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More details are emerging concerning the worries among local doctors about changes to the pathology department at the Cornwall Community Hospital – and if only a few of those worries are legitimate, I sure hope I never have to wait on a cancer test.

A surgeon in Cornwall has circulated some correspondence among colleagues in the city outlining some very specific worries concerning the consolidation of the pathology department at CCH.

I was provided a copy of the correspondence following a city council meeting earlier this week where councillors asked local doctors, surgeons and the like to appear at the May 26 council meeting when hospital brass are expected to outline the reason for making changes to the pathology department.

You'll recall that last week in this space I took the city to task for basically putting its nose in hospital business – and I made the argument that if the roles were reversed the city would be unimpressed.

I stand by those sentiments, but once one gets beyond the city's decision and looks at what could be happening at the hospital, it certainly gives you a moment of pause.

The pathology department is being merged with the so-called Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association (EORLA).

Critics charge the move boils down to moving the pathology department to Ottawa, while the hospital counters that the decision will create greater efficiencies in the system.

Who you believe is up to you, but the fact is doctors in Cornwall are worried for patients.

"This decision has been made with absolutely zero input from the key stakeholders," said the letter city councillors received Monday night. "I am very worried about how (consolidating the department) can be done without severely restricting our work here, and forcing us to cut down a lot of what we do here."

The work done in the pathology department is an integral component of cancer treatments. Lymphoma tests, biopsies and the screening of test results are done on-site to ensure adequate samples are taken. As well, large breast lumpectomies and mastectomies are required to reach the pathology lab to be processed within one hour, according to the letter.

Which begs the question – how will this be accomplished if the department is consolidated with a host of others and headquartered in Ottawa?

You probably won't like the answer.

"All this travelling time is clearly going to lengthen the amount of time the patients wait for their results," said the doctor. "We do this work every day, and so, often underestimate the stress of the patient waiting and wondering if they have a cancer."

I've been there. I was barely out of college when my doctor thought he found a lump during what was supposed to be a routine exam but very quickly turned into a two-week odyssey of fear and anxiety.

I didn’t tell anyone, because I figured there wasn't really much to tell. But I had to wait until I could get an appointment for an ultrasound to determine if there was any validity to the doctor's concern.

In a nutshell, it turned out I was fine and the ultrasound determined there was nothing to fear.

Anyone who has been through such a wait knows that your life quickly becomes consumed by the all-important test results.

Making the decision to consolidate the pathology department probably looks great on a financial ledger, but a patient who is forced to wait for test results is going through a special hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

The hospital attempted to clarify its position in a press release issued last week. Even the letter-writing doctor had a hard time swallowing it.

"The truth is, this press release did not say anything specific, really," they said. "If it did, I must be very dense, for I cannot really figure it out."

No kidding. Maybe we will get some more specific answers May 26. Until then we wait – which could become a running theme, to the detriment of worried patients throughout Cornwall.

Organizations: Cornwall Community Hospital, Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association

Geographic location: Cornwall, Ottawa

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