By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports from the Haliburton Highlands Health Services board meeting held virtually on Jan. 27.
HHHS CEO and president Carolyn Plummer said that while the area’s two emergency departments have been staffed with the HHHS nursing team and help of agency nursing staff – about eight full-time equivalent staff – “the situation remains precarious.”
She said at this point, coverage is in place until the month of March.
“The continual onboarding of new agency staff is not something that can be sustained over a long period of time; recruiting permanent staff continues to be critical, as does investing in the retention of our current staff,” said Plummer in her CEO report, noting a variety of both recruitment and retention strategies are underway.
Plummer said HHHS continues to face physician shortages, including a decline in available emergency department physician coverage.
“We recognize that despite our best efforts and the collaborative work we are doing with Ontario Health East and other partners, recruitment will continue to be a challenge as healthcare organizations across the province are engaged in similar recruitment activities,” reads her report. “As a result, we are also continuing to engage in data analysis and planning discussions for potential service reductions; more information about this will be available in the coming weeks.”
Deficit increases but financial report ‘encouraging’
David O’Brien, board vice-chair and chair of the finance committee, said the results of the financial report from October and November were more “encouraging,” than those reported up to September.
Currently the organization is facing a $633,000 deficit, compared to $613,000 as reported in December.
“So it hasn’t gotten any worse, other than for about $20,000 which is the first time that’s happened in a long time,” he told the board. “Normally this would have increased by $100,000 plus per month, so we could have expected somewhere in the $830,000 range. So, good work on that … that we’ve got that mitigated, but we still have a $633,000 deficit.”
O’Brien said the significant factors contributing to that deficit remain mostly from ongoing staffing pressures – from agency work to overtime and sick time – and total lost revenue from non-Ministry of Health sources.
“It’s assumed that the additional costs incurred because of the pandemic will be offset with government funding, and we continue to review all cost areas to ensure that we are optimizing the amount of pandemic expenses to be recovered,” he said. “That’s a very critical component because we, like all other hospitals, are experiencing heavy increases to our operating bottom line because of COVID, and we’re tracking these numbers very carefully.”
O’Brien said a cash deficit had been largely eliminated because of some funding from the province for COVID-19 expense claims from the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year, and first quarter of the current fiscal year.
He thanked all staff, residents, clients and patients.
“Everybody’s doing a marvellous job, we should be standing up proud and holding our head high that we’ve done what we’ve been able to do with very little resources,” he said.
Board plans to advocate for nurses, staff, on Bill 124
Bill 124, Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019, generally caps annual salary increases to one per cent for unionized and non-unionized employees in the public sector, including employees of the provincial government, crown agencies, school boards, universities and colleges, hospitals, non-profit long-term care homes, children’s aid societies, social service agencies and electricity and energy sectors.
Outside of his report, O’Brien expressed his concern about the impact of the legislation on those working in the healthcare sector, especially as they’ve worked through the pandemic.
“We know that funding for healthcare has been cut back dramatically over many years, and I’m not pointing the finger at any one government and that has gone back for many, many years,” he said. “The consequence of that of course is that when COVID came along we were ill-prepared to deal with it from an operational and staffing point of view. But, in the end it’s the health sector that rose up and put the boots on the ground and were available to beat this COVID to the point that we might get out of it in the foreseeable future. And without that commitment from staff we probably wouldn’t be where we are today, well on the way to recovery.”
“It’s caused just immeasurable personal and social upheaval within the health profession, both on a personal basis of the employees and the ability of all hospitals and other health organizations to be able to provide service,” said O’Brien.
He said the board should express support for nurses and all other staff affected by the piece of legislation.
“I personally think that this bill is wrong. I don’t think it should be applicable to our sector after all we’ve done,” he said, noting HHHS shouldn’t have the kind of deficit he spoke to earlier, “because the money should be coming as quickly as we put the money out the door, because we’re putting the money out the door on behalf of the government. And part of that cost is providing the kind of services and support we give to our staff.”
Board chair Jan Walker asked that the board’s commitment to looking at a plan to advocate for staff be added to the minutes.
“I think you have full support on that particular item,” she said.
HHHS Foundation celebrates Magic of Giving
Lisa Tompkins, executive director of the HHHS Foundation, spoke to the record results of the Magic of Giving campaign.
“We exceeded last year’s results by almost 50 per cent for a total raised of $243,910,” she said. “That’s of course thanks to the extraordinary generosity of some 800 donors across the county and well beyond who made very clear their support of HHHS and healthcare in our community.”
Funds raised supported priority capital equipment including mobile workstations-on-wheels for the new clinical information system and state-of-the-art nurse call bell systems for Highland Wood and Hyland Crest long term care homes. Additionally, it contributed to community support service programs, providing 993 meals for the Meals on Wheels program and 282 trips for medically-required transportation.
“Overall a very successful campaign this year,” said Tompkins. “We’re very grateful to the generosity of so many who made it very clear that healthcare is a high priority for them and our local healthcare matters.”
Public consultation open for LTC legislation proposed changes
Proposed regulations under the Fixing Long-Term Care Act, 2021 have now been posted for public consultation by the provincial government. The proposed Phase 1 of the regulation is posted for consultation until Feb. 17 at www.ontariocanada.com/registry/.