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AHS committed to finding a new pathologist

The recruitment process to replace the lone pathologist at the Bonnyville Covenant Health Centre has started.
Alberta Health Services in the process of creating a search committee to recruit a new general pathologist.
Alberta Health Services in the process of creating a search committee to recruit a new general pathologist.

The recruitment process to replace the lone pathologist at the Bonnyville Covenant Health Centre has started.

Officials from Alberta Health Services (AHS), Covenant Health and the local health centre have participated in a series of discussions regarding the open pathologist position and have agreed a replacement needs to be found.

“We really want to let the people of Bonnville know and the local physicians know that we are doing what we can to replace Dr. Puttaswamy,” said Carolyn O'Hara, Deputy Zone Clinical Department Head with AHS.

O'Hara, who represented AHS at several recent meetings with Covenant Health and local hospital officials, is in the midst of putting together a search committee to look for a suitable replacement for Puttaswamy.

The group will be starting the recruitment process in the near future and could spend the better part of a year searching.

“Finding a pathologist that is suitable for Bonnyville is going to be difficult, but we are going to give it a go,” said Guy Lamoureux, Chief of Staff at the Bonnyville Covenant Health Centre.

Puttaswamy, affectionately known as Dr. Shekar, was the chief pathologist at the Bonnyville hospital. He died on July 26 when his single engine Cessna 182L aircraft crashed near Seibert Lake, roughly 70 kilometres northwest of town.

“I considered him and friend, as well as a colleague,” said O'Hara, who had known him for the better part of a decade. “The pathology community is a small one and we are all feeling the loss of a colleague.”

O'Hara and fellow AHS representative Dr. Kevin Worry made the trip up to Bonnyville to attend Puttaswamy's memorial. According to Lamoureux, the two have been very supportive in helping make the best out of the current situation.

“Alberta Health Services has been awesome in this whole situation,” said Lamoureux. “They have made sure that anything Dr. Puttaswamy was working on was finished up.”

An interim plan has been established and any samples being received in Bonnyville that would have gone to Puttaswamy are being distributed to other pathology departments across the province to ensure they get processed.

This plan will stay in place while the recruitment team searches for a qualified doctor to take over Bonnyville's pathology department.

“It will take some time, especially if we can't find any Canadian trained pathologists, but we are hoping within six to 12 months we will be able to find someone,” said O'Hara.

Puttaswamy was one of a handful of general pathologists practicing in Alberta. According to O'Hara, the majority of new pathologists are choosing to become more specialized during their residency, which could make Bonnyville's search for a replacement difficult.

While the process to fill the void left by Puttaswamy is not going to be easy, many are just excited to see AHS so committed to keeping the pathology lab in Bonnyville.

“AHS recognizes our position and the importance of keeping more of a regional pathology lab here in Bonnyville. We couldn't be happier,” said Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski.

Three years ago the pathology department at the Bonnyville Covenant Health Centre was in question after one of the two local pathologists retired. The move left Dr. Puttaswamy as the only pathologist on staff in town.

Originally AHS officials felt that the lab couldn't run with a lone pathologist and opted to terminate the department and regionalize the local service.

Local representatives from the Town and Health Centre fought the decision, feeling the pathology department was important to the community and that it needed to stay in town.

After a lengthy back-and-forth AHS eventually came on board and let Puttaswamy run a one-man pathology department.

With that decision AHS committed to making a pathology lab in Bonnyville work. Recent discussions have shown they are upholding that commitment and are leading the charge to find new pathologist for the community.

“There is a commitment from AHS,” said Sobolewski. “They are working very hard and working with us to undertake the recruiting process to ensure that the pathology lab remains strong here in Bonnyville.”

“We really couldn't have asked for anything more from Alberta Health Services in this situation,” added Lamoureux.


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