HHHS in the hole as end of fiscal year nears

By Mike Baker

The Haliburton Highlands Health Service [HHHS] is currently operating with a deficit of around $442,000 as the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt.

HHHS board member David O’Brien, who sits on the organization’s finance committee, informed the rest of the board last Thursday [Jan. 28] that around $258,000 of that total comes from lost revenues as a result of COVID-19 service closures, with an additional $184,000 related to additional staffing costs to cover overtime and recruitment drives during the pandemic.

While O’Brien painted something of a bleak picture, the local health service’s finances are actually looking a lot better than they were a few short weeks ago.

“While this continues to be a challenging year with ongoing pressures due to the pandemic… we now have a more consistent cash flow with COVID-19 related expenses,” O’Brien said. “We were six months behind [on our funding], but we have now received money that covers us until the end of September [in 2020]. That brings us to three months behind. It’s still not great, but it’s better than where we were.”

O’Brien noted HHHS had also received money to cover lost revenues at its long-term care sites up to the end of 2020.

He anticipates the organization will still be in a deficit position by the end of the fiscal year, coming up on March 31. Still, O’Brien says he and the rest of the finance committee will advocate for more funding over the coming weeks.

“We’re going to continue to work with our funding partners… to ensure we get the funding we feel we are missing with respect to revenue losses,” O’Brien said.

Local disease activity
Dr. Steve Ferracuti, interim co-chief of staff at HHHS noted that while provincial numbers for COVID-19 have steadily decreased over the past week, we were still experiencing “some degree of local activity” in Haliburton.

He pointed to a recent report put together by Carolyn Plummer, president and CEO of HHHS, that sheds some light on the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests conducted in Haliburton County. Since the onset of the pandemic last March the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has reported positive COVID-19 cases based on far-reaching geographical boundaries, identifying individuals as being from Haliburton County, Northumberland County or the City of Kawartha Lakes. Only residents whose permanent address is listed within those three regional municipalities is presently being reported by the HKPR unit.

This means that any visitor or temporary resident of the county – mainly cottagers whose primary home lies outside of our health region – who test positive for COVID-19 are reported in their home municipality.

In an attempt to provide more clear data, staff at Haliburton’s assessment centre are now willing to provide a COVID-19 positivity rate for all people tested locally. For the period between Jan. 11 and Jan. 22, the positivity rate was 3.5 per cent, with an average of 169 tests being completed each week. During that period the HKPR unit reported a total of three new cases of COVID-19 in Haliburton County.

Plummer said it was important to note that the positivity rate still may not represent all positive COVID-19 cases in our community, but only those who are identified through testing at the local assessment centre.

In her later report to the board Plummer noted the county had seen a total of 22 COVID-19 cases between Dec. 10 and Jan. 28 – which represents an 85 per cent increase in the total number of cases since the onset of the pandemic in March. Haliburton County has seen a total of 48 cases of COVID-19.

Ferracuti noted the hospital site in Haliburton opened up new bed space on Monday [Feb. 1] to house any patients redirected to the community from GTA-area hospitals experiencing surges in ER visits and admissions.

Successful Foundation campaign
The ‘Believe in the Magic of Giving’ campaign launched by the Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation over the holidays helped to bring in $136,400 for the local health unit.

Lisa Tompkins, executive director of the foundation, said the money would help to pay for a portable digital x-ray machine for HHSS’ Haliburton site.
“I want to acknowledge the over 830 donors who contributed… As always, we’re so appreciative of the generosity shown by our community,” Tompkins said.