Susan Sullivan - Telegram File Photo
When Susan Sullivan took the reigns of the Department of Health last year, she inherited a government agency that is $1-billion richer than it was five years ago.
In total, the provincial government spends roughly $2.9 billion on health, which represents around 38 per cent of the total budget.
Sullivan says she think's that's a good situation to be in, but the government needs to be careful it doesn't climb any higher.
"I think that that's a good number at which expect to maintain our costs. So what I've done is I've had some very frank discussions coming into this department with each of the CEOs and I've reiterated to them the importance of being able to live within that budget," she said.
"It's a huge challenge, but I'm happy to say all four of the CEOs understood the challenge, embraced it, they've gone back to their respective health authorities now with a view to seeing what they can do to find those efficiencies."
The CEOs that Sullivan is talking about are the four heads of the regional health authorities. The health authorities collectively take up 68 per cent of the province's health care budget. Eastern Health's budget alone is more than $1 billion.
Something everyone seems to agree upon is that the province is spending a whole lot of money on health, and we could probably be doing it more efficiently.
"What I'm aiming for is to find efficiency and to find effective ways to deliver that health care within the province, without in any way compromising quality patient care," Sullivan said. "It's a huge challenge for us."
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball also thinks there are efficiencies to be had, especially when it comes to things like chronic disease and preventative medicine.
Ball pointed out that Newfoundland and Labrador leads the nation when it comes to heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
"We've got to get more aggressive on this," he said.
"It's when we invest in chronic disease management and prevention is when we see the improvement in outcomes."
Sullivan clearly agrees with that assessment. In December, she released a chronic disease management strategy.
She said her marching orders to health authority CEOs has been to find efficiencies without any impact on patient care. However, she also said she hasn't given them any sort of targets, when it comes to budget numbers.
Any savings won't come right away.
"I think it will take time overall," she said.
"We're being creative, we're being innovative now. For this year what I've asked our CEOs to do is to ensure that budgets are balanced."
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said she's worried that any talk of cost savings will mean cuts, and that's not something she wants to be talking about.
"What I'd like to speak to more is how we spend the money," she said. "The thing I look at is how efficient are we being with regard to our health care costs?"
In last year's provincial election, the NDP campaigned heavily on the need to do a full review of the health care system. At times, Michael called the current system "a mess" that needs to be looked at.
She pointed to a recent example of a woman on the Burin Peninsula in need of an MRI, who was told by Eastern Health she would have to wait months. Following media attention, the woman found she could have the same procedure in Central Health much sooner.
"We're not using creative thinking in Newfoundland and Labrador right now with regard to some things that to me are very simple," Michael said.
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