Riverside still among hospitals awash in red ink

Duane Hicks

For a second-straight year, Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc. is among the more than one-third (38 percent) of Ontario hospitals which reported a deficit in the last fiscal year that ended March 31.
Riverside, which includes La Verendrye Hospital here as well as the health centres in Emo and Rainy River, ended up with a shortfall of $1,117,589 this past year after experiencing a deficit of more than $950,000 in 2008.
“Yes, the hospital did run a deficit last year. We ran a deficit the year before, as well,” Riverside chair Craig Sanders confirmed.
Sanders would not elaborate on the exact reasons for the deficit, referring questions to Riverside CEO Wayne Woods, who was out of the office earlier this week and not available for comment prior to press time.
As reported by The Canadian Press earlier this week, more than one-third of Ontario hospitals (61 out of 159) couldn’t balance their books last year, amounting to a $107-million shortfall overall.
The year before, 61 hospitals reported a total shortfall of $154 million).
One of the major reasons cited in the article was insufficient provincial funding, to which Sanders agreed.
For example, Ontario hospitals received a 2.1 percent increase to their base funding from the government in 2009-10, which is less than inflation.
This year, it will be 1.5 percent.
“I think the province has a tendency to raise our funding by 1.5 percent, without regard to the fact that wages in the various unions that work in health care are going up two and three percent,” Sanders noted.
“How do you make that work when you’ve already cut all of the fat out of the system?” he wondered.
“We’ve done that for years—cutting, making managers run two departments, all of that kind of stuff,” Sanders stressed. “We’ve done what we can do there.
“So if the province isn’t going to at least cover the increase in the cost of our wages, which is, of course, like any other business, our biggest expense, then we have no hope of balancing our fiscal year,” he argued.
With quite a few hospitals are facing budget problems all over the province, including here in Northwestern Ontario, Susan Pilatzke, senior director of Planning, Integration and Community Engagement for the North West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), said the Ontario Hospital Association, Ministry of Health, and LHINs are working to “get a good understanding of the economic situation in Ontario, and the whole challenge of the fact we’re spending more on health care and it’s not a sustainable model.”
“I think the three parties have really worked well together to try and understand what’s the best way that we move through this,” she remarked.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue.”
Ontario hospitals receive about 85 percent of their funding from the province through 14 LHINs, and by law are not allowed to run deficits.
But they can be given a special exception if they come up with a plan to balance their books.
“Hospitals can ask for waivers, but that’s a negotiation with the LHIN,” explained Pilatzke.
“The most important feature that we have is all our hospitals communicate regularly with us, and we work very collaboratively to look at strategies to manage financial pressures,” she noted.
“An important piece, too, is there may be extenuating circumstances in a particular hospital that they keep us apprised about or working with, and we regularly update what is going on to actually meet targets and strategies to reduce the imbalance again,” Pilatzke added.
“We’re very committed, as the North West LHIN, to continue to work proactively with the hospitals, and we’re confident they’ll continue to be innovative in their strategies,” Pilatzke later noted.
She said the hospitals are very aware of the LHIN’s strategic direction and agenda regarding system transformation, integration, accountability, and quality improvement.
Under the North West LHIN, the four which reported deficits in 2009-10 included Riverside ($1,117,589), Manitouwadge General Hospital ($273,197), Wilson Memorial General Hospital in Marathon ($190,442), and McCausland Hospital in Terrace Bay ($38,153).
Regional hospitals which ended 2009-10 in a surplus position included Atikokan General Hospital ($10,587), Dryden Regional Health Centre ($171,305), Lake of the Woods District Hospital in Kenora ($157,603), Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital in Red Lake ($89,488), Sioux Lookout’s Meno Ya Win Health Centre ($348,131), St. Joseph’s Hospital-Thunder Bay ($3,629,971), and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre ($861,835).