The Health Sciences North board of directors has approved a $505.8-million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, but it will not be implemented until a third-party independently reviews and approves the hospital's plans.
The Northeast LHIN will conduct an independent review of the approved budget as well as a systemic review of the pressures that the health system is experiencing. The LHIN says this is needed because it is concerned with the magnitude, pace and impacts of HSN’s plan to live within its means, according to a release from the hospital.
In its 2018-19 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.
"Despite a challenging deficit to cope with, HSN has been able to reduce the operating deficit to $4.9 million, which represents less than one per cent of the total budget," said an HSN news release.
This budget includes no bed closures and a $1.4 million increase in clinical departments including a new pain management clinic.
Additionally, the budget will cut 113 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs (37 fewer FTEs in management/non-unionized positions and 76 fewer FTEs in unionized positions).
There will be a $6.9-million reduction in program expenses outside clinical departments and a 23-per-cent reduction to the capital budget for renovations, equipment, information technology.
HSN Board Chair Nicole Everest points out the board hopes most job cuts will come by way of attrition and retirements. She points out in the release that 184 HSN employees are eligible for an unreduced pension by 2019, saying funding has to keep pace with expenses.
“We understand this is a difficult budget the board has approved,” said Everest.
“Admittedly, meeting those standards with the health care funding model we currently have is extremely challenging and I fear won’t get any easier in the coming years. This is a problem that needs to be addressed right away.”
Northern Ontario's main hospitals have already begun lobbying the LHIN for an increase to their funding to deal with what they say are rising costs that are outpacing funding.
Last week, the chairs of the four northeastern Ontario hub hospitals (HSN, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Timmins) co-signed a letter to the NELHIN Board Chair, initiated by the Timmins and District Hospital. It outlined their concerns about their hospitals’ “ability to respond to our patients’ healthcare needs while facing financial positions that are consistently precarious."
They pointed out their four hospitals “struggle to deliver diverse and high quality services in a fiscal environment that threatens basic financial survival”.
“These are not easy times for HSN,” said hospital CEO Dominic Giroux. “The consensus during internal consultations in mid-March was to move swiftly with reductions to allow the organization to refocus as we develop a new Strategic Plan for 2019-2024 to meet the needs of our patients and of the communities we serve. That’s our goal.”
It's that speed that seems to be troubling the LHIN. The HSN board was informed by the LHIN on April 12 that it would conduct by June 30 a third-party validation of the approved budget as well as a systemic review of the pressures on the health system in Sudbury.
HSN still hopes the Ontario government will provide a "relief package" of $5.9 million in ongoing annual funding from the $822 million the Liberals announced in new hospital funding.