Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) is in a precarious financial position according to board chair David O’Brien, who says the organization is waiting on nearly $3 million of COVID-19 related funding from the provincial government.

During a Dec. 2 board meeting, O’Brien said HHHS was “experiencing another very challenging year” in light of the ongoing pandemic. The organization is reporting a budget deficit of $613,000 as of Sept. 30, although O’Brien indicated that number is likely significantly higher today. He noted the third quarter financials, once in, were “not going to be pretty.”

Year to date the organization has seen lost revenues of approximately $372,000, while staffing expenses are way up, totalling more than $350,000. This is largely attributed to the use of staffing agencies to maintain services and miscellaneous recruitment costs, said Carolyn Plummer, HHHS president and CEO. A “significant” increase in housekeeping hours and security services has also impacted the budget.

O’Brien noted HHHS is experiencing cash flow issues, which is making things difficult operationally. As reported in the Nov. 25 Highlander, the organization is preparing to reduce services at its facilities in Haliburton and Minden in the near future, although that decision is being driven by staff shortages, according to Plummer.

“These challenges are particularly onerous on small rural hospitals who have very, very limited sources of external revenue that they can depend upon,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to continue to have serious issues going forward into the new year.”

The money HHHS is owed by the province is accounted for in the budget, meaning when it comes in the organization will still have a fairly substantial shortfall. In her report to the board, Plummer stated she was still waiting on reimbursements for pandemic-related expenses dating back to March 2021.

MPP Laurie Scott did not respond to questions surrounding the funding as of press time.

Emergency department closures

Plummer said an announcement on pending emergency department closures is coming, with the organization ironing out the details on a new long-term service plan.

It is unclear at this time whether those changes will impact the Minden hospital, Haliburton hospital, or both. Plummer has previously stated that HHHS will ensure at least one emergency department is available at all times.

“Work is still underway to analyze some information that we have available to us, and to seek feedback from various groups,” Plummer said.

HHHS physicians and clinicians have been involved in the process, she said. Other stakeholders such as Haliburton County Paramedic Services, Ontario Health, and community partners have also provided feedback.

Once a decision has been made, it will be shared at least 48 hours before any changes are implemented so as to give the community time to prepare.

“I don’t think any of us wanted to see this happen, but it is the reality [of our situation],” Plummer said.

Facility enhancements

HHHS has hired Thom Runciman to serve as environmental services supervisor. Plummer said he has a lot of experience in long-term care, and would be working to improve some of the organization’s cleaning and maintenance protocols post-COVID-19.

Work to bring HHHS up to standards through the Johnson Controls Energy Efficiency Initiative is close to completion, Plummer noted. Staff have recently finished upgrading LED lighting throughout all HHHS facilities, while a new building automation system has been installed.

“This system allows us to continuously monitor heating, cooling and ventilation trends in our main facilities, to help ensure our heating and air conditioning systems are functioning properly to maintain a comfortable environment for our patients, residents and staff,” Plummer said.

The planned long-term care nurse call system replacement project will be completed at Highland Wood this month, with work to begin at Hyland Crest early next year. Plummer says the old system was outdated and difficult for residents to use. The project was funded by the HHHS Foundation.

The magic of giving

The local hospital foundation reports it is off to “a very strong start” with its annual festive fundraiser. While she didn’t provide any numbers, executive director Lisa Tompkins said she was “very grateful for, and very humbled” by the generosity of the Highlands community, who has continued to support the foundation throughout the pandemic.

All money raised through the Believe in the Magic of Giving campaign is donated back to HHHS to fund equipment and facility upgrades and service enhancements.

Tickets for the foundation’s December 50/50 draw are still available, with an early bird draw taking place on Dec. 15 and grand prize draw happening Dec. 31.