PETER CONRADI and JOHN ROBBINS/Bullet News
NIAGARA – Job cuts are coming to the Niagara Health System as its managers struggle to find $13 million in savings to balance the books.
Details of the new fiscal measures were laid out during a lunchtime media briefing in St. Catharines.
“As every hospital in the province is doing, the Niagara Health System has been reviewing where and how we can gain efficiencies and improve our bottom line,” said NHS interim president and CEO Sue Matthews. “We have to be financially sustainable. It is not an option for us. We have a zero-per cent funding increase for hospitals, despite inflation and that means a negative impact for us.
“In response, we have identified some savings up to about $13 million.”
Matthews said the NHS is still regarded as one of the most efficient hospital authorities in the province, making it very challenging to find further savings.
The NHS at one time had one of the largest annual deficits of any hospital in the province. In 2008, the Liberal government ordered the NHS to develop a “hospital improvement plan” to address its financial problems and to address quality of care issues.
The Liberals also addressed a historic shortfall in funding by increasing the NHS’s annual operating grant.
The target set at that time the HIP was adopted in December 2008 was to have the books balanced by 2013.
The current fiscal year ends March 31. The operational budget of the NHS is $430 million. The budget is expected to jump to $500 million a year after the new St. Catharines health-care complex, opening at the end of March, is fully operational.
Matthews said steps will be taken to protect quality of care while dealing with the financial situation of the organization.
“Patient care remains our priority,” Matthews told reporters.”Patient care will not be sacrificed in any way.”
Among the steps the NHS expects to take to get its operational deficit under control are increasing parking fees, not filling 12-full-time equivalent positions, reducing overtime, closing operating rooms for up to six weeks at three sites, decentralizing the nursing scheduling office (supervisors will now make schedules), product standardization, reducing part-time hours, and even using less paper.
Matthews said there are approximately 120 vacancies, half of them full time. She said there are 66 nursing vacancies, 31 of them full time.
No nurses are expected to be laid off. The number of cleaning staff at hospitals, which have been hard hit by superbug outbreaks in recent years, will also remain unchanged. No bed closures are anticipated.
The new satellite dialysis centre now under construction inside the Hatch office building in Niagara Falls will move forward as planned, Matthews said, adding there are no new plans for consolidation of services.
“The last thing we consider are program changes,” Matthews said. “We will always look and consider what is possible, but the No. 1 priority has to be for patient care . . . There is nothing on a list, there is nothing in a drawer waiting, but six months from now there might be.”
The NHS isn’t sure how many layoffs will take place. It has already eliminated 12 administrative and executive positions. It hopes to reach further job reduction targets by voluntary retirement or buyouts.
“We don’t know the final number of individuals who will leave the organization in this process,” she said. “This is a very lengthy process, and in the past it takes up to a year sometimes for the process to land. I do know it’s a stressful time for staff… we feel very much for them affected by this and will do everything we can to minimize the impact.”
Matthews said staff has been asked to take part in a ‘Bright Ideas’ campaign in hopes of finding an additional $3 million in savings.
And even when they find the cuts, Matthews said the NHS will face similar challenges every year.
“This is ongoing. Every year, sometimes twice or three times a year,” she said. “In light of current economic conditions we will face challenges for the next three to five fiscal years.”
NEW PARKING FEE STRUCTURE AT NHS SITES
$2.00 per 30 minutes
$4.00 per hour
$8.00 maximum per 12 hours
$40.00 per week
$80.00 per month
$22.00 biweekly for staff
(This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.)