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Lakeridge Health says it’s under extreme budget pressures

Posted: September 11, 2020

(September 10, 2020)

By: Frazer Snowdon, Global News

The healthcare network that represents five hospitals in the Durham Region says it is facing significant budget pressures upwards of a $9.6M deficit, according to an internal memo obtained by Global News.

Lakeridge Health says they operated 80-100 more beds than they were funded for last year.

“This put extraordinary pressures on our operations and resulted in a $13.5M deficit,” said the memo sent out to staff.

After taking several strategies, the organization says they were able to alleviate some pressures but are still looking at a $9.6 million shortfall.

Lakeridge says an increased volume of patients will require more than $9.6 million in cuts. The memo went on to say a number of changes would need to be made, including patient care model changes, the consolidation of some services, redirecting some outpatient services, leveraging virtual care and realigning some clinics to budget.

Officials say these efforts will help them ensure their practices are in line with industry standards.

The memo also said that union leaders have been notified about planned staff reductions, however Lakeridge confirmed today that it was only a restructuring of their departments, with minimal impact to employees.

“Implementing these services will require shifting of how and where services are offered,” said John Perenak with Lakeridge.

“We must follow collective bargaining agreements, which means moving an employee from one team to another requires a layoff notice, at the same time as a job offer.”

When Global News asked if this included voluntary layoffs, they said they are working through collective agreements in the process.

The Durham hospital network says in the major restructuring they hope to alleviate these financial pressures, but not everyone thinks it’s as simple as that.

Sara Labelle works as a medical laboratory technologist at Lakeridge Health in Oshawa. The lab tech also represents employees as the Chair of the Hospital Professionals Division in OPSEU. She says people will still feel the effects, including patients.

“Ultimately we’re going to have less people to do the work. We either have to make decisions where we don’t provide a service or people will have to wait longer to get the services they need,” says Labelle.

She adds that even though the hospital says nobody will lose their jobs, they could still get uprooted from what they are doing.

“They may not be out the door, but it just means that someone who maybe chose to work at Lakeridge to perform a certain service is now working in a different area.”

Although it is a tricky situation, Labelle says after the costs over the past few months, the hospital is stuck.

“Lakeridge doesn’t have a choice, We just went through a pandemic,” says Labelle. “We had to provide tons of personal protective equipment to staff and patients, that wasn’t funded.”

Lakeridge health says a handful of people could be affected by the changes, but adds they have lots of opportunities across their network. The memo says their strategy will help them achieve savings and efficiencies that will end up transforming patient service.

“This will allow us to maintain services in Durham Region while transforming and expanding care for patients and providers.”

The Ontario Hospital Coalition says it’s not surprised about the cuts because hospitals across the province are in a similar situation.

“Lakeridge and the other large hospitals across Ontario all need better funding. All of them are overcrowded, all of them are running at levels of capacity and levels of crowding that are unacceptable and unsafe,” says Natalie Mehra, the executive director for OHC.

Mehra says forcing a hospital to make cuts this large is going to have major effects on the system.

“There’s less care. You cut $10 million out of your budget, you cut the amount of care you are providing.”

The provincial government says they have invested billions of dollars into health care this year.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health responded to the issue of cuts at Lakeridge.

“The government is investing $3.3 billion more in health care this year, the largest year-over-year increase in a decade,” said Alex Hilkene with the ministry.

“Lakeridge Health received a funding increase of over $5 million this year to expand front-line services for the people of Durham.”

The ministry says although they help fund the hospitals, it’s up to the operations departments to ensure positions are protected.

“Hospitals are in charge of their own operations and operational decision making. That said, when making planning decisions, we expect all hospitals to minimize impacts on front-line care.”

But the Ontario Hospital Coalition says the province’s hospitals are grossly underfunded.

“Ontario hospitals are funded at the lowest rate in Canada. Every other province is able to fund theirs better. Our government needs to step up,” says Mehra.

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