By Jenn Watt
The following are brief reports of items discussed at the Sept. 24 meeting of the Haliburton Highlands Health Services board held via Zoom online conferencing service.
Responding to the coronavirus pandemic has added considerable expense to the HHHS corporation, but ministry funding hasn’t kept pace, leading to a $230,000 deficit as of May 31, 2020.
David O’Brien, chair of the finance committee, told board members that expenses have increased in several facets of HHHS operations.
“This has required huge financial investments which have caused significant financial pressure, not just on our regular day-to-day operations, but also on our cash flows related to the additional incremental expense, which includes the one-time pandemic pay for eligible staff,” he said.
“Minimal ministry funds have flowed to date and I want to underline that. Minimal ministry funds have flowed to date. However, we are being assured that these will be addressed in the near future.”
Of the $230,000 deficit, O’Brien said $198,000 was “due to lost revenues due to service closures.” At the same time, staffing costs have gone up with recruitment and retention pressures leading to more overtime, sick time and benefits.
“We’ve had to increase our staff resources by almost 20 per cent in the last five months for new positions such as screeners, enhanced cleaning, and increased bed capacity,” O’Brien said.
HHHS president and CEO Carolyn Plummer said cash flow issues are being experienced by health-care institutions across Ontario and advocacy work was underway.
“We have been working, as Dave mentioned, in partnership with Ontario Hospital Association, our regional hospital partners and others to advocate for speedy transfer of funds to help address some of those cash flow issues and to reimburse for those expenses,” she said. “The Ontario Hospital Association has developed a position paper outlining the impact of the fiscal challenges on hospitals and the COVID response.”
The position paper, which was circulated as part of Plummer’s report to the board, called attention to a $500 million net deficit for Ontario’s hospital sector for the months of April and May 2020, which includes a revenue loss of $320 million.
Recognizing pandemic’s impact on staff
In his report to the board, chief of staff Dr. Steve Ferracuti said working during a pandemic has been stressful for HHHS staff.
The team has performed well, he said, with good practices in place.
However, he informed the board that this comes with “readiness fatigue.”
“Your staff are working extremely hard,” he said. “They’re donning, they’re doffing, they’re donning, they’re doffing [their protective gear], and it’s exhausting. And they are putting in more hours than they would like. And they’re doing a great job, so if you … have a chance to pat someone on the back, it would be highly appreciated.”
Plummer also praised staff during her report to the board.
“They’ve stepped up from day one and have continued to step up and like I said, I cannot say enough times how grateful I am for their contribution,” she said. “And the contribution of our physician team as well, who stepped up and completely changed the way that they operate in order to make sure that we had appropriate medical coverage and leadership throughout this pandemic.”
Ontario Health Team process continues
The proposed Haliburton Highlands Ontario Health Team has yet to move to the full application stage of the provincial Ministry of Health’s process. The Haliburton team, which is a proposed partnership of several health-care providers, submitted its report to the ministry in January.
“In July 2020 the Ministry of Health identified the next group of OHTs to proceed with completing a full application; HHOHT was not among that group,” Plummer’s written report to the board reads. The group has met with the ministry since about next steps.
HHHS has been working on making space for additional patients and finding new solutions to allow for physical distancing while people wait at the emergency department, Plummer said.
“Over the summer months as our volume started to increase, some folks were able to wait outside to help maintain social distancing, but with the cooler weather coming, that’s not going to be possible and isn’t necessarily the safest option either, so we were doing some work to expand seating,” she said.
Half of the Cash for Care tickets sold
Lisa Tompkins, executive director of the HHHS Foundation, told the board that more than $800,000 was transferred to the corporation for equipment and initiatives. Cardiac telemetry, cardiographs, and updated X-ray equipment were highlighted for the last year.
Though some events had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions, Tompkins said donations are still coming in, with the recent radiothon on Moose FM bringing in $42,600.
Cash for Care lottery launched in August and half the tickets have already been sold. Cash for Care includes several draws, starting with two early bird draws for $500 (in October) and $1,000 (in January), followed by three draws on Feb. 14, 2021 for $1,500, $2,000, and $20,000. Go to hhhs.ca/foundation/cash-for-care-lottery for details or call 705-457-1580.
Hospital auxiliary considers holiday pop-up shop
Adapting to restrictions posed by COVID-19, the Haliburton Hospital Auxiliary is mulling over the idea of offering a pop-up shop before the holiday season. Jacqui Clarkson, representing the auxiliary, told the board that the charity hasn’t been able to run its gift shop due to the pandemic, but would like to offer something for shoppers.
“We of course can’t have the gift shop open in the hospital, but we’re looking to see if we can find a facility that perhaps we could have a pop-up shop, just before the holidays, and perhaps be able to raise some of our funds that way. So we are working on things,” she said.
The auxiliary purchased a wheelchair steamer for the hospital this year.