By Jenn Watt
Published Oct. 2 2018
The following are brief reports of items discussed during the Sept. 27 meeting of the Haliburton Highlands Health Services board.
Haliburton Highlands Health Services is working to return to a balanced budget following news of a year-to-date deficit of $250000 as of the end of July 2018 finance committee chairman David Gray said during a board meeting on Thursday Sept. 27.
“This negative position is largely the result of the ongoing operating deficits in our long-term care homes coupled with the recent change in government that has resulted in a freeze on some of our revenues as well as the associated increased costs of implementing Bill 148 Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act” according to a press release from HHHS.
HHHS CEO Carolyn Plummer said the ongoing operating deficit is due to insufficient funding for the corporation’s two long-term care homes which has been an issue for several years.
“It is becoming increasingly challenging each year as residents’ needs are becoming more and more complex requiring additional resources. Although we have received some increases over the years they are not sufficient to cover the full amount of rising costs” Plummer told the Echo by email.
The freeze on revenues is a result of the recent provincial election. Funding was frozen when the election was called and hasn’t yet been lifted. Plummer said HHHS hasn’t received a timeline for when money will be released.
In the board meeting Gray pointed to two parts of Bill 148 as costing HHHS more: personal emergency leave and statutory holiday pay. In particular Plummer said personal emergency leave “could cost HHHS over $160K per year.”
An action plan was created by the management team which the press release states will lead them to reach a balanced position by the end of the fiscal year: March 31 2019.
“The comprehensive plan is designed to take advantage of the recently announced new investments in LTC [long-term care] leverage and grow revenue and grant funding and implement rigorous plans to mitigate rising labour costs and control rising repair and supply costs all without impacting services to our community” the statement reads.
Gray told the board that on Wednesday Labour Minister Laurie Scott who is also the local MPP said the government was reviewing the Fair Workplaces legislation and meeting with stakeholders.
He also noted that Scott announced the WSIB premium rate for employers would be dropping substantially in 2019 which would be helpful for HHHS.
To properly staff the emergency department in Haliburton HHHS has had to use locum coverage through recruitment as well as Health Force Ontario’s Emergency Department Locum Program.
Medical staff at the Family Health Team helped alleviate pressure of the summer demand in July and August through walk-in clinics.
CEO Carolyn Plummer said she was thankful to the physicians for stepping up to help but indicated there is still a need to enhance recruitment activity.
In her written report she detailed efforts to date including “working on becoming a primary teaching site for rural family medicine training” lobbying the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care for an increase in funding for the department and working with Haliburton County and advocating for support for a local recruiter.
Haliburton’s emergency department receives less funding due to lesser volumes Plummer explained in an email to the Echo following the meeting.
“The overall annual volume in the Haliburton ED [emergency department] is just under the threshold to move to the next funding level (known as level 3). The Minden ED has slightly higher volumes than the Haliburton ED so it was already over that threshold (i.e. already at level 3) and was receiving more funding” she said.
Both Minden and Haliburton staff their emergency departments at all times which qualified Minden to move up to the next level 3A. However even though Haliburton does the same the lesser volumes disallowed a new funding level.
Funding for new nurse
New funding has been confirmed for a Behavioural Supports Ontario nurse position. The nurse will support patients in the emergency department and in-patient unit who have dementia-related behaviour.
This will “better support their return to the community and reduce the time spent waiting in hospital for alternative levels of care” Plummer’s written report states.
Plummer told the board that news of this funding was a good sign.
“Some of the freezing of funds is starting to slowly slowly slowly lift. This is one area where we did receive some funding in recent weeks. That gives me hope that more will come in the future” she said.
Improving customer service
Starting in October Community Support Services will be changing the way they take calls from the public. Clients who call in will be assessed and directed to appropriate programming and services rather than being patched through to another service or department.
“We’re really hoping that this is going to address many concerns that we know have arisen over time with difficulties navigating the health system” Plummer said. “We’re hopeful as well that given the vast array of community services that we do offer it’s not always clear for folks which services they should be asking for and so the intent is to help provide those services without putting expectation on individuals to understand our programs.”
Accessibility in the spotlight
The board approved the new accessibility plan for HHHS but the CEO told them that the intent is to go beyond what is legally required of the corporation.
HHHS decided to do its own audit to assess what was still needed in its facilities. A member of its accessibility committee Sarah Levis was present for the tour and she brought with her two other community members who have disabilities.
“Three individuals came and went through all of our main areas of our Haliburton and Minden facilities as well as our CSS green house next door here and our GAIN building down in Minden” Plummer said. “It was an extremely rewarding experience for us to actually go through this with folks who are living with a disability. One of the key things that we came to really learn was that we’ve been striving to meet the accessibility standards but what we really learned was that those standards are often not good enough for most people who are living with disabilities. And so we completely shifted how we are approaching the work that we need to do to improve accessibility and the organization based on the input of those individuals. Some of the feedback they gave us is incorporated into our plan for this coming year.”
Board chairman Jeff Gollob said it was frustrating that the law hasn’t caught up to reality.
“It’s a great irony to come up with a plan that meets a legal requirement but is deficient in meeting the needs of the people it’s intended to benefit” he said.