Province late with $1.75 million in payments

Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) is having to access its line of credit due to financial pressures, including the high cost of agency nurses, the province’s slow transfer of funds, and inflation.

In her report to the Oct. 27 board meeting, CEO Carolyn Plummer said, “pressures and scarcity of recruits to fill vacancies has led to continued staff replacement through use of staffing agencies.” She added there are increased accommodation costs in acute care, and the same pressures “to a lesser degree” in HHHS’ long-term care programs.

“These pressures, along with rising costs for utilities, fuel, raw food, and supplies are contributing to an ongoing deficit,” Plummer said.

Head of the board’s finance committee, Irene Odell, told the meeting that at the end of June, HHHS was running a deficit of just over $220,000. However, she added, “that was actually looking better than reality” because HHHS made some income from property sales. Otherwise, she said the deficit would have been $655,000.

“Sad to say, we’re still trending very high going throughout the year in spite of all of the different risk management that the organization is putting in place to deal with that,” Odell said.

She noted they were also waiting for cash flow from the Ministry of Health, “and this has been for some months now. They owe us $822,000 for our last fiscal year and $928,000 for our current fiscal year. As far as we know, this money is all approved and should be coming in. Without that we’re drawing on our line of credit, which does cost the organization money in interest. We’re very concerned about this…we’re hoping these funds will be coming in soon.”

Plummer said the $1.75 million in overdue funds are for incremental COVID19 expenditures, long-term care funding, the COVID assessment centre, wage enhancement funding, and nursing retention bonuses.

The CAO added that on Sept. 28, HHHS received a funding letter from Ontario Health East for $270,000 to support operating pressures. She said the money will help cover some of the nursing agency costs from over the summer. “However, we will continue to communicate our ongoing deficit position and continued operating pressures to Ontario Health East for further support.”

Elsewhere in her report, Plummer said, “the dire staffing situation at HHHS has not changed since the last report. However, the longer this situation continues unchanged, the more challenging it becomes. Although HHHS is doing what it can on a local level to address our staffing needs, so many of the challenges and barriers to recruitment and retention facing HHHS are the same ones affecting healthcare organizations across the province and country.

“Some challenges, such as a lack of affordable housing and the rising cost of living, are affecting sectors and businesses outside of healthcare as well. HHHS will continue to do what it can to improve our retention and recruitment efforts, while also continuing to engage in regional and provincial discussions about our needs,” Plummer said.

Increase in COVID cases

Plummer said HHHS had recently seen an increase in positive COVID cases among staff, as well as patients arriving with COVID.

“Although it is difficult to have a true picture of the prevalence of the virus locally, it does appear that cases are increasing in the community as well,” Plummer said.

Regionally, there has been “a definite increase” in cases, the CAO added, with the Peterborough region sitting at ‘very high’ on their COVID-19 risk index and the highest number of cases in the province.

“Peterborough Regional Health Centre is also seeing an increase in the number of patients presenting and admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, and an increase in staff and physician cases. Ross Memorial Hospital also experienced a facility-wide outbreak.”

Plummer said an increase in cases is somewhat to be expected for this time of year, given people are spending more time indoors in the cooler weather and with school back. However, she added, “it is also a strong reminder of the need to remain cautious and protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community from the spread of the virus, particularly given the highly transmissible nature of the predominant sub-variants of the virus.”

With the bivalent vaccine now available, HHHS is encouraging people to stay up-todate on their COVID-19 vaccines. She said there are also concerns about an early and difficult flu season and they’re coaxing people to get their flu vaccine. People can get both at the same time.

Plummer said the HHHS COVID-19 steering committee was meeting this week to review current precautions in place at HHHS to determine whether any revisions are needed.