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2018 in review: Budget review and job cuts highlight a rocky year at HSN

Hospital received a $4.8-million payment for Northeast LHIN

Dominic Giroux's first full year at the helm of Health Sciences North was anything but smooth sailing, as the hospital wrestled with a large deficit, along with job and program cuts.

During a Sudbury Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Feb. 13, Giroux announced that the plan was to have HSN back in the black by 2020-21 and operating with a balanced budget. 

In the meantime however, the hospital has taken a one-time $4.8-million payment from the Northeast Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to help alleviate some of its service program pressures.

The LHIN had to step in during HSN's budget process this year in order to conduct a third-party review to approve the hospital's $505.8-million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

In its 2018-2019 budget, the board approved the 2019 construction completion of both the 4,800 sq. ft. PET-CT suite and the 28,000 sq. ft. Learners’ Centre. 

This budget included no bed closures and a $1.4-million increase in clinical departments including a new pain management clinic. 

Additionally, the budget proposed cuts of 113 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs (37 fewer FTEs in management/non-unionized positions and 76 fewer FTEs in unionized positions).

With the one-time funding boost from the LHIN, that number has been trimmed to 51 FTE unionized positions, impacting approximately 64 people.

In regards to programming at the hospital, a number of clinical areas are seeing cuts, including NEO Kids and Family which received nearly $400,000 less in this year's budget than a year ago. Senior care transitions had its budgeted amound slashed by nearly $560,000.

Increases in the budget were made for community care and rehabilitation which got a boost of $757,149, while mental health and addictions received a boost of $293,976 over last year's budget, despite the province cutting back its mental health budget by $330 million.

At the forefront of the cuts are union workers of CUPE 1623. These union employees include frontline staff such as housekeepers, laundry workers, and cleaning staff. 

CUPE 1623 president Dave Shelefontiuk said in November that these cuts are leading to a downward spiral in terms of cleanliness at Health Sciences North.

"Health Sciences North is one of, if not the dirtiest hospital in Ontario," said Shelefontiuk. "This is because of the reduction to housekeeping staff. The linens, which I don't even want to get into, we have surgeries being cancelled because of issues with the linens. The Ford government made that promise that he's going to end hallway medicine, that there won't be any job losses, I can tell you that's been happening here constantly."

Another highly contentious issue has been the proposed cuts to HSN's breast screening and assessment (BSAS) service. The hospital is looking to save $270,000 by cutting the assessment portion of the program.

The hospital revealed in September that changes were planned for it BSAS and surgeons would no longer be consulting with patients at the BSAS clinic. 
Instead, roughly half of the more than 2,000 patients who pass through the clinic on a yearly basis will be referred to see a surgeon at their office. 

The Sudbury Breast Action Committee has been very vocal in its opposition to the proposed cuts and have been pleading with HSN to find cost savings elsewhere in order to keep the BSAS operating in its current capacity.

Speaking of capacity, the hospital continued to battle with overcrowding throughout 2018, with calls from local politicians to put an end to hallway medicine, which has become the new norm not only in Sudbury, but at hospitals around the province.

Back in February, Nickel Belt MPP and NDP health critic France Gélinas pressured the Ontario Liberals to take action against overcrowding at the province's hospitals. Gélinas spoke of a man in his 70s who spent nearly two weeks in a hospital bathroom at HSN after being admitted for a back injury .

Some progress was made in 2018 by Health Sciences North with regard to the number of alternative level care (ALC) beds. The number of ALC beds was sitting at an average of 93-97 in 2017, ranging as high as 105-106 beds, prompting HSN to implement an ALC prevention strategy in partnership with the Northeast LHIN.

The plan has resulted in the hospital hitting its target of 75 ALC beds, with numbers getting as low as the 50s.

"There's always going to be pressure with this, but we're figuring out ways to leverage our community partnerships and working together with the LHIN," said HSN board chair Nicole Everest, who was re-elected board chair at HSN's annual general meeting, and is serving her final year in that role.

"We knew we really needed to focus on this and we're making sure that we're doing the right things and making the best use of our resources."

There were some shakeups at the senior management level at Health Sciences North this year, as the hospital bid farewell to Senior Vice-President and Chief Operating Joe Pilon, who retired on Aug. 31. Max Liedke was hired on as Pilon's successor.

Mark Hartman was promoted to senior vice-president, patient experience and digital transformation, effective Dec. 10, taking over for the outgoing David McNeil, who has accepted the position of president and CEO of the Brant Community Healthcare System.


Matt Durnan

About the Author: Matt Durnan

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