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Bluewater Health waiting on ministry OK for CEEH upgrade funding

Posted: March 3, 2016

(March 3, 2016)

By: Tyler Kula, Sarnia Observer

Shirley Roebuck worries that long-dwindling funding for hospitals will soon be a threat to rural facilities like Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital in Petrolia.

“All over the province of Ontario small and rural hospitals are being targetted as the provincial government pursues its plans to regionalize and consolidate health-care services,” said Roebuck, chairperson of the Sarnia Lambton Health Coalition.

She’s speaking out amid concerns a projected nearly $1.9-million deficit at Bluewater Health by month’s end will mean cuts by the Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) — which acts as the local funding and decision-making arm of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in the region that includes Sarnia-Lambton — to local hospital services.

But Bluewater Health CEO and president Mike Lapaine said nothing of the sort is planned.

“Just like any budget year, there are minor changes here and there but the core service that we provide out in Petrolia is maintained and there are no plans to close the small hospital in Petrolia,” he said.

Bluewater Health, which operates hospitals in Petrolia and Sarnia, will be able to “absorb the deficit” this year because it has enough cash flow, Lapaine said.

“We clearly don’t plan on running recurring deficits,” he said. “However, a lot of that is dictated by funding, and we would have never imagined we would have lost $7 million in funding three years ago.”

That’s due to Health Ministry funding clawbacks under funding formula changes introduced in 2012, including a $2.5-million reduction earlier this fiscal year, he said.

Bluewater Health recently announced plans to cut $5 million in costs through staff and bed reductions, reduced shifts, and renegotiated contracts for medical and surgical supplies.

The upcoming provincial budget, meanwhile, includes another $345 million for hospitals, including a one-per-cent increase to baseline funding, but it’s not expected to impact the cuts, Lapaine has said.

If nothing changes, projections are Bluewater Health’s budget will balance next year, he said; but it still leaves the projected $1.9 million in red ink for this year’s fiscal end March 31.

Options include Bluewater Health applying to carry that deficit over to the following fiscal year, or using working capital to pay it off, said the LHIN’s Ralph Ganter.

There’s been no talk with Bluewater Health of cutting services, he said.

But services over the years have been lost at small hospitals in Petrolia, Wallaceburg, Strathroy, Woodstock and others, Roebuck charged.

“The people in Sarnia-Lambton I think want the hospital in Petrolia to continue to exist and I hope it does,” she said.

Meanwhile the ministry has invested millions of dollars into small and rural hospitals since 2012, said spokesperson David Jensen, noting nearly $20 million over the past three years to eligible small hospitals through base funding increases, and more through the Small and Rural Hospital Transformation Fund.

A plan is also in place to upgrade Petrolia’s hospital to the tune of $5 or $6 million, but that’s still in the approval stages with the ministry as Bluewater Health waits on word about its funding application, Lapaine said.

“The timing of it is largely controlled at the Ministry of Health capital planning branch,” he said.

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