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Halton Healthcare Suspends Autopsy Services as it experiences Critical Staff Shortage

A Halton Healthcare memo was sent out November 5th 2021 by Sharon Kherani, Director Laboratory Medicine and Diagnostic Imaging and Dr. Nadeen Edmondson, Medical Director Laboratory Medicine and Chief Pathologist. In the memo it notified its “Clinical and Administrative Leadership, Physicians and All Laboratory Staff” that Halton Healthcare is experiencing a “critical staff shortage” and would be temporarily suspending Autopsy services.

“With our current limited staffing, we are unable to maintain autopsy service” the memo articulated.

(Screenshot: Memo Sent from Halton Healthcare to staff)

Autopsies are given to deceased when looking to determine the cause of death. According to the Coroners Act, “death investigations must be conducted for all deaths that are not natural, as well as deaths that are natural but sudden and unexpected.”

Acton UP reached out to Trish Carlton, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Halton Healthcare to ask the reasons for their staff shortages, she responded, “This is a temporary measure that we have put in place while we recruit laboratory pathology staff. In total, we perform approx. 12 autopsies a year at our hospitals.”

Trish assured Acton UP that the shortage was not in relation to Halton Healthcare's recent staff vaccination requirements.

“This shortage is not related to the vaccine mandate. There is a Canada wide shortage of medical laboratory technologists. Almost 96% of our staff and physicians are vaccinated. We continue to work with individuals to reach compliance with our vaccination policy, but at this point in time we have not finalized a deadline.” Carlton told Acton UP, “The Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario is asking the government for assistance to address the shortage of medical laboratory technologists in Ontario. The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science has also identified the shortage as an issue.”

Carlton directed Acton UP to a press release given by the MLPAO (Medical Laboratory Professionals Association of Ontario) which indicates shortages of staff across Ontario.

In the Aug 30th, 2021 press release authored by Michelle Hoad, the CEO of MLPAO, it states that the MLPAO is “calling on the Ontario government to invest $6.2M over 4 years through a three phased approach to address the severe shortage of medical laboratory technologists (MLTs) in Ontario laboratories.”

The MLPAO also says that the “shortages have been building for decades now, with 41% of practicing MLTs in Ontario eligible to retire within 2-4 years. COVID-19 has accelerated shortages. 87% of medical laboratory professionals are experiencing burnout and 42% contemplating leaving the field or retiring early. A cycle of shortages, increased workload, burnout, turnover worsens this HHR crisis. The current shortage of 466 MLTs far exceeds those entering the field (291).”

In the Halton Healthcare memo it does state that autopsies will resume on March 7 2022, though no indication for the particular date could be given. Carlton says “This situation will be reassessed on a regular basis. Resumption of the service will be contingent upon successful recruitment and orientation of new staff. We will work with a number of other hospitals during this time to arrange for autopsies when needed. Referrals will be based on the receiving hospital’s capacity at the time. ”


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