Others think Eastern Health is on the right track
The main entrance of the Health Sciences Centre was busy Wednesday afternoon, the day after Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski announced details of job cuts to meet budgetary improvements. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
How you feel about cuts at Eastern Health likely depends on your own experience and circumstance.
On Tuesday, the health authority announced plans to eliminate the equivalent of 550 full-time positions to create efficiencies while avoiding permanent staff layoffs.
Take the case of Sue Rideout. Last spring, she had to call 911 from the Miller Centre in St. John’s to have paramedics transfer her mother to the Health Sciences Centre because her heart rate and blood pressure were both up, despite the fact staff earlier stated she was fine.
“When Mom was cared for, what part of the team could she have afforded to lose?” asked Rideout in an email to The Telegram. “She obviously didn’t have enough. She would have chosen more, not less. An extra set of eyes, or an extra set of hands wouldn’t have gone astray.”
‘Honest response’ to problems with efficiencies
There was a disagreement between Rideout and a doctor over her mother’s treatment. A prescription of Stemetil, an anti-nausea drug, had caused her mother to lose muscle function, according to Rideout. A year after she stopped taking the drug, Rideout’s mother was able to walk and live at home.
Rideout said she feels hospitals need more staff.
“In the emergency department, nurses often say there isn’t enough time in the days that are fully staffed to care for the patients in the way they need and deserve to be cared for,” she said.
But on Tuesday, Eastern Health said nurses will be expected to reduce the time they spend with each patient, adding that the time nurses spend with patients in this region is higher than the national average.
Sick leave, now costing Eastern Health $50 million annually, will be reduced by determining whether or not each shift requires a replacement worker. Rideout said sick leave is likely overused because staff shortages prevent workers from using annual leave.
Need for efficiencies
While Rideout might not be convinced of the need to find efficiencies in health care, St. John’s resident Geoff Chaulk appears more sympathetic to the predicament facing Eastern Health. Chaulk spent 15 years working for the Ontario government in the health department.
“What Eastern Health did by commissioning an operational review is really, as I would see it, good management practice,” said Chaulk, who himself had a recent stay at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital that he speaks of quite positively. He was admitted to emergency and felt the care provided was excellent.
Chaulk suggests regional health authorities like Eastern Health are considering the implications of the federal government’s recent decision to slow the increase of funds allocated to the provinces for health care.
“That has to have an effect on how the system is obviously funded and thus how it functions. What (Kaminski) seems to be doing is getting out ahead of that a bit to see how efficient they are and where they can save dollars without negatively impacting patient care.”
Chaulk thinks Kaminski’s words amount to an “honest response” for how Eastern Health has functioned in recent years.
“I think it was a really commendable, brave exercise on Eastern Health’s part, but also very forward-looking (in) getting ready for some of the funding pressures the system is going to have to deal with.”
During his time in the 1990s working on health matters in Ontario, Chaulk said there were significant budget pressures felt across the province’s health care system.
“There definitely were big changes that occurred in relation to finding efficiencies, but in some respects I think what we did ultimately realize is given some of the cuts were so deep, there were implications for people in relation to services that were cut.”
Wayne Lucas expects the same issues may creep up in Newfoundland and Labrador as a result of Eastern Health’s announced cuts. The regional vice-president in the province for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is particularly wary of Eastern Health’s use of the term “operational improvements” in Tuesday’s announcement.
“If we go to The Telegram and say we’re going to make operational improvements, you know one would think automatically that there’s going to be new equipment to make the job easier, or there’s going to be more people to help do the job that they’re doing. But in this particular case, the operational improvements mean less people on the job, and that can only mean there’s going to be a void in the system.”
CUPE represents 350 employees at two Eastern Health long-term care facilities. Lucas said he has been told by the health authority that the changes will have minimal impact on CUPE’s members.
In the house
Cuts to Eastern Health continued to be top of mind for politicians in the House of Assembly, with both the Liberals and the NDP pressing for more details on the job cuts and budget savings.
But throughout question period, Health Minister Susan Sullivan tried to make it clear that Eastern Health is in the driver’s seat when it comes to restructuring its operations, and that the whole exercise is really just about making sure Eastern Health isn’t paying more for the same services than the rest of the country.
CEO Vickie Kaminski said that Eastern Health is among “the worst” when it comes to operational efficiency.
On Wednesday, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball wanted to know exactly which hospitals Eastern Health is being compared to, and what the national benchmarks are.
“Eastern Health keeps referencing the comparators that consultants use to determine the appropriate benchmarks for Eastern Health and to justify their conclusions and their recommendations,” Ball said in the House during question period. “This comparative information has not been provided to the public or the organizations representing the staff impacted by these recommendations.”
Sullivan said neither Eastern Health nor the government will make that data available any time soon. For starters, she said, there was no formal report done as part of the process of finding efficiencies.
More importantly, Sullivan said, the government can’t release the information because it’s private information.
“What we are talking about is a comparison of data. That is what has been supplied to us. There is no report; it is a matter of data,” she said.
“That is private, individualized information. It has been made available to Eastern Health so that they can look at the comparisons, but we cannot release data from other hospitals, other organizations around the country.”
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael was concerned that the personnel cuts will translate into a lower quality of service.
The provincial government has promised that won’t happen, but during question period, Michael said she has her doubts.
“People are asking how Eastern Health can cut 385 positions (through attrition) and make other changes to the tune of $43 million without affecting the quality of patient care,” Michael said. “Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Could she clearly outline how their Department of Health is going to monitor the changes so that they will not affect patient care?”
Sullivan said Eastern Health will monitor the changes.