agyqiyd · 2022-03-18

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.”