Hospital deep in the red

Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital is projecting a $6.9 million operating deficit for the coming year as it struggles to reconcile surging demand for services with inadequate funding. “It is going to be a big challenge,” CEO Elisabeth Riley told the board of directors during a Tuesday night meeting. March 31 marked the end of the previous fiscal year for Orillia’s hospital, which reported a projected deficit of $1.8 million – a figure that could change once all revenues and expenditures are accounted for. That shortfall will be applied to the hospital’s line of credit. Top of mind at this week’s meeting, however, was the deficit for the coming year. It was initially estimated at $10.6 million, though officials are hoping to reduce the shortfall by $3.6 million through a plan to trim costs and explore potential revenue generators. Renting out an operating room for plastic surgeries, bulk purchasing of supplies and an automated drug dispenser that puts patients in touch with a pharmacist via the Internet are among the measures proposed. Officials are additionally hoping to reduce overtime and sick days through better management and scheduling of staff time. “No service reductions are in this budget,” said Cheryl Harrison, vice-president of patient services. Several factors are driving the deficit, Riley said. Patients who should be in nursing homes are occupying hospital beds due to a lack of long-term care spaces in the community, she noted. That, coupled with a chronic shortage of family physicians, is placing added pressure on the emergency department, she said. Board member Dr. Rob Meeder was concerned the effort to find savings as outlined in Riley’s presentation would impact negatively on quality of care. “We’ve already been focused on efficiency and doing as much as we can with as little as we can,” Meeder added. Riley stressed that additional efficiencies are necessary, and that staff would ensure patient care does not suffer. In the same breath, she would not rule out the possibility of job losses, only to say layoffs are not being contemplated “yet.” The plan does envision changes to how staff members’ skills are utilized, and as a result, “there is a potential it will impact people’s jobs.”   Riley later added that, “There will be changes, so we cannot say that there will be zero layoffs.” Riley will now present the board’s plan to the Local Health Integration Network, the agency responsible for overseeing the delivery of health care in the region. She said the agency has the power to waive the requirement that hospitals operate with a balanced budget. “They know it is a significant deficit and they know we have tried hard to get it where it is,” she added. Board member Tony Katarynych stressed that Soldiers’ was not alone in its challenges. “This is a much bigger problem,” he said. “We are not unique by any means.”


Phonin’ it in for Big Brothers Big Sisters

Telus in Alliston was in the giving mood recently, donating proceeds from its cuddly Critter Sales initiative to Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Simcoe. The store sold plush meerkats, two of which are seen here checking out some phones, to customers during the Christmas season. Proceeds from each sale went to BBBSSS. In total, $113.42 was raised. Seen here, from left, are Kyle Cubberly from Telus Alliston, and Kelly Cetnarski and Kally Malcher from BBBSSS.


Public school board boasts 131 six-figure earners

The Simcoe County District School Board paid 131 employees more than $100,000 last year, according to public-sector salary figures released Tuesday by the province. Topping the list was Lou Brandes, who earned $156,000 as the board’s associate director and superintendent of facility services. The list of six-figure earners is published annually and includes organizations that received transfer payments from the province of at least $1 million, or that received 10 per cent of their gross revenues from the province during the previous year. “Our government is committed to being transparent in how we use taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said in a news release accompanying the list. The highest salary paid to a public-sector worker in the Midland area was the nearly $275,000 earned by Brian Tamblyn, president and CEO of Georgian College, which has a campus in town. Educators and school officials figured prominently on the list. The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board had 67 employees named, led by director of education Michael O’Keefe at $194,000. Several employees of local municipalities also raked in impressive salaries in 2008. In Midland, CAO Ted Walker ($125,000) was one of four people on the town payroll to crest the magic number. His counterparts in Penetanguishene, Tiny and Tay also made the list with salaries ranging from $107,000 to $114,000. In the health sector, six individuals employed by the North Simcoe Hospital Alliance were included on the list, led by Carol Lambie, who made almost $163,000 as executive director of the Penetanguishene Hospital site. Also under the health umbrella, eight Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit employees and six people toiling for the North Simcoe Muskoka Local Health Integration Network brought home more than $100,000, including CEO Jean Trimnell, who earned $252,000. The Children’s Aid Society of Simcoe County, Community Living Huronia and the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka were also mentioned on the provincial list, a complete copy of which is viewable online at [email protected]


Local group endorses energy plan

Members of the Simcoe Huronia Association for Renewable Energy (SHARE) are applauding the province for its plan to introduce a Green Energy Act next month. The local group has been promoting renewable energy and energy conservation in the Midland area for three years. “With the provincial government’s support, moving our society away from fossil fuels and toward more sustainable and clean energy sources will happen sooner,” SHARE president Susan Hirst stated in a press release. SHARE is lending its support to an Ontario Sustainable Energy Association campaign to inform Ontarians the province could add 250,000 jobs and generate 31,000 megawatts of energy simply by importing technologies and processes already widespread in Europe. SHARE noted the legislation would provide for priority purchase and access to the grid for all renewable energy projects, and would provide pricing that more equitably reflects technologies such as wind, solar and biogas. “If we continue to invest in technologies that further destabilize our climate, we are going to pay a bigger and bigger price,” said Jose Etcheverry, energy director of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Countries like Germany and Spain are producing enough renewable energy to power all of Ontario, with much less renewable energy resources. They’re way ahead of us, but, with our abundant natural resources, we can catch up very quickly.” SHARE is a non-profit corporation with the mission to promote sustainable energy through education and conservation. For more information, visit, e-mail [email protected] or call 527-0922.


Campaign Lake Simcoe criticizes Alcona plan

Innisfil council is promoting urban sprawl and threatening the environment with an official plan that would dramatically increase Alcona’s urban boundaries, Campaign Lake Simcoe says. “Council’s decision runs up against the province’s apparent concern about protecting Lake Simcoe and its watershed and highlights the need for the draft Lake Simcoe Protection Plan to address population growth issues, which it currently does not,” says Claire Malcolmson, the group’s co-ordinator. Last week, council unanimously agreed to include lands from Conc. 4 to Conc. 9 in its long-term plans for Alcona. The proposal, known as OPA 1, must still be approved by the provincial government and the County of Simcoe. Malcolmson criticized the plan, saying it will amount to paving over more of Lake Simcoe’s watershed. “Scientists say aquatic biological systems begin to degrade when 10 to 15 per cent of a watershed is paved, or impervious.  The watershed has already reached or exceeded the critical ecological threshold for impervious surfaces,” she said. However, Mayor Brian Jackson said Innisfil council had Lake Simcoe in mind when it approved OPA 1 last week. Part of the plan calls for oversized stormwater ponds that will decrease flooding and help purify water before it enters Lake Simcoe. “I think most of council had that in mind when we made the decision,” Jackson said Tuesday. “The positive aspect is that we may be able to have sustainable growth and control that run-off as well.” The plan calls for the area to grow by additional 10,000 people over the next 25 years. While council has expanded Alcona’s urban boundaries, Innisfil’s population target of 65,000 people by 2031 has not changed. “This is a long term plan. There will still be plenty of opportunity for comments and revision in the secondary plans,” Jackson said. Malcolmson also criticized the province’s Lake Simcoe Plan, which is still at the draft stage, for failing to control urban growth in the watershed. “Settlement areas must not be expanded and new settlement areas must not be created in the watershed,” she said. The Lake Simcoe Protection Act and the provincial Places to Grow policy appear to be working at cross purposes, Malcolmson added. “The province fails to address the issue of growth in the watershed since Places to Grow and the draft Simcoe Plan are contradictory,” Malcolmson said. Campaign Lake Simcoe and other environmental groups are calling on the provincial government to move new development away from the watershed. But such a move would doom Innisfil’s growth plans since much of the town’s infrastructure, including the water treatment plant, is in Alcona, Jackson said. “I don’t know how we would abandon one area and move into another area to accommodate our growth,” Jackson said.


Bringing home the bacon

“Happiness is makin’ bacon.” That’s more than just a slogan at Holly Park Meat Packers near Cookstown. The company, tucked away on the 9th Conc. just west of town, is celebrating a rather significant recognition for one of its products. At a banquet held on Saturday, Feb. 21, Holly Park’s Phoenix End to End bacon captured a silver award at the Ontario Independent Meat Producers (OIMP) annual conference. More than 100 premium meat or poultry products were submitted for a chance to be crowned in one of 12 categories. The top three entries from each category were selected based on the judges’ combined scores. They included ham, country style bacon, cold cuts, deli roasts, fresh sausage and home meal replacement. Food industry professionals and media evaluated the entries. “The Ontario Finest Meat Competition is intended to promote the innovative, high quality products that Ontario’s meat processors have to offer,” said Laurie Nicol, executive director of the OIMP. “We hope this competition educates consumers and retailers on the quality and variety of Ontario meat and poultry products.” The OIMP is a voluntary, non-profit organization representing 180 processors from across the province. The Ontario meat and poultry industry contributes more than $6.5 billion a year to the economy and represents 20 per cent of the food manufacturing industry. Lilly Vacca, Holly Park’s bacon production manager, said, “This year, the competition was a little different. Homegrown Ontario was incorporated into competition. Any product submitted had to be homegrown. We’re really proud about that.” Homegrown Ontario is a labelling system for veal, lamb, and pork that were raised, finished and processed in Ontario. The program was introduced in 2007. Entries in the bacon category were judged on seven attributes: • visual appeal • consumer appeal • uniqueness • appearance • flavour • texture • aroma Winning the silver award “was great,” Vacca says. “It was very exciting and a huge sense of achievement.” For team member Karen Dipoce, “I think it’s fantastic. I’ve been here seven years and it’s terrific to be recognized for your work.” In a typical year, 140,000, 10 lb. boxes of Phoenix bacon are shipped from the plant. And “That’s just side bacon,” Vacca says. “They mostly go to the food services industry, then to wholesalers, then to restaurants.” In business for 30 years, Holly Park started out in a 2,000 square foot abattoir supplying mostly veal. Today, two operations, the one near Cookstown, the other in Caledon, process beef, veal, lamb and bacon. The Cookstown plant recently underwent a 28,000 square foot expansion and employs up to 60 staff. The company also processes halal, kosher, natural and organic products and offers custom processing. Holly Park’s owner and founder, Tony Facciolo, is the OIMP president. “Membership in Ontario Independent Meat Processors has grown recently,” Vacca adds. “We have been registering in the product competition for many years and each year, we have improved our process with help from the comments on that evaluation.”


Police charge other driver in cruiser crash

Nottawasaga OPP have charged a 21-year-old Alliston man in connection with an OPP cruiser collision Feb. 24. The man is charged with Turn Not in Safety, under the Highway Traffic Act. The collision happened on Church Street South in Alliston at about 5 p.m. A cruiser, responding to an emergency call on Albert Street was northbound on the road and came up to a long line of cars. The cruiser had its lights and sirens activated, but the cars did not move out of the way, according to police. The officer pulled out to pass and as he was approaching the front of the line, the lead car in the group, a Honda Civic, turned left, and into his path. Both cars spun out into the west ditch, with the cruiser slamming into a sign for PPG Canada. The driver of the Civic was taken to hospital with minor injuries. The officer was not hurt. E-mail reporter Kurtis Elsner at [email protected]


Hospital faces deficit

Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital is unlikely to drag itself into the black before the end of this fiscal year, Orillia Today has learned. “It is looking like a slim chance that we could end up with a balanced position by the end of the year, at this point,” said president and CEO Elisabeth Riley. The local facility had hoped a fresh influx of cash for its regional dialysis program would be enough to dodge a projected operating deficit of $1.7 million. But according to Riley, rising expenses largely offset the funds awarded by the province for the widely used program. “The bottom line is, we are now projecting a $1.6 million deficit,” she added. Riley noted that a portion of the funds recently earmarked for dialysis services were directed to satellite clinics in the region. Whether Soldiers’ scores additional dollars by the end of this fiscal year will depend on patient volumes at the local dialysis unit. The fiscal year ends March 31. “There is still the possibility for more money if the volumes justify it by the end of the (fiscal) year,” she said. The hospital will continue to seek savings wherever possible as it works to grind down this year’s shortfall and plans for the future. For example, positions left vacant when staff members retire or otherwise depart the hospital could be eliminated, so long as services were not impacted. Those same positions might also be made part-time, Riley added. Layoffs are not being contemplated at this point in time, she said. “Our hospital is really built on expertise, on the people we work very hard to recruit, and we wish to retain our talent,” Riley said. “It would be a last ditch effort to have layoffs.” Rising costs are the result of several factors, including a fully operational patient tower and a busier than anticipated emergency department. Patient visits to the ER rose from 45,000 in 2005/2006 to more than 50,000 this year, Riley said. According to a report by the Ontario Health Coalition, at least half of the province’s hospitals are or have been running deficits this year.


Teens preparing for mission to Nicaragua

A group of local teens will be heading overseas this spring to help individuals in need. Trent and Erin Simons, family ministry pastors for Covenant Christian Community Church, will be leading the team of 13 high school students from the Midland-Penetanguishene area to San Francisco, Nicaragua, to help build a roof for a local church and run afternoon camps for children. The team has spent the past six months getting ready for the May trip. Members meet monthly for orientation meetings. They have been hard at work learning Spanish, working on teamwork, raising funds and learning about the country they will be visiting. Trent Simons said he is hoping the trip – which will be the first journey to a Third World country for the youths – will expand their horizons and increase their awareness of issues such as poverty that have such a huge impact in other parts of the world. “Raising awareness is a really big piece of it,” he said. “We’re also hoping to bring the love of God to this community and … work with the church and (hang) out with the kids down there.” Many of the youths going on the trip – who will range in age from 14 to 18 – have been participating for the last several years in smaller adventures to downtown Toronto and Montreal, where they have been working at homeless shelters. However, this will be the first time the church will be leading an international trip of this nature, noted Simons. “The kids have responded very positively to those (smaller) trips. They’ve talked about how they have learned a lot about the people and breaking down the stereotypes of homeless people and marginalized people,” he said. “Many of them that are going on this trip have been on these other trips, as well, so they keep coming back for more.” [email protected]


Holy Family School honoured with award

Alliston’s Holy Family School is among the top elementary schools in Ontario. Last Tuesday, Holy Family was recognized as a School of Distinction in the Improvement in Academics category at the annual Garfield Weston Awards for Excellence in Education dinner. Although Holy Family wasn’t in the top three schools, it was among the top 30 in the province. "It’s just a matter of everyone working towards the same goal, which is having everyone realize their full potential," said Holy Family principal Deb Cinelli. The distinction is for schools that have experienced the fastest, most consistent improvement in their academic performance over the past five years. The awards are based on the Ministry of Education’s student results of the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests in reading, writing and mathematics written by elementary students in grades 3 and 6 each year. The top one per cent of schools in each category were invited to the awards ceremony. "The teachers, support staff, and administrators from Holy Family School are pathfinders who continually find new ways to help their students achieve more in school. We are delighted to honour their hard work and achievement," said Peter Cowley, director of school performance studies at the Fraser Institute. This year’s standardized testing is coming up at the end of May and early June. While Cinelli is proud of the school’s achievement this year, she wants the school to continue climbing. She is has her sights on the top category of the Garfield Weston awards, the Overall Academic Achievement, for schools whose students achieve remarkable, ongoing success for five years. For now Cinelli is letting students enjoy this week’s success though. The distinction was brought around to the classrooms and students got to take a break and enjoy a snack while celebrating the success of their provincial testing scores. The Garfield Weston awards are handed out by the private sector, but the Ontario government also recognizes the school’s achievements. Cinelli said Holy Family is one of the province’s Schools on the Move, for schools that are making sustained progress in student achievement. Cinelli said the school’s programming is responsible for the recognitions. She said there is uniformity in the way lessons are taught so students can move between grades with ease. The school also has a strong early intervention program, which Cinelli said helps pinpoint students who might struggle with areas such as reading or writing early on and provide them with the support they need.