NDP, union say Eastern Health only hurting patients
The elimination of providing crackers and cups of tea to hospital patients in St. John’s is only crumbs in terms of the money it saves, says the leader of the NDP.
“What the management of Eastern Health has to do is look at why they are spending millions of dollars on overtime rather than how to save $97,000 — that is only making life a bit more difficult for patients,” Lorraine Michael told The Telegram Wednesday.
“What they need to deal with is what is causing the overtime. And what is causing all of the overtime, in my opinion, is they do not have enough people, a full complement of staff. This is the analysis that needs to be done, not trying to save small pockets of money that means more difficult times for patients,” she said.
According to auditor general Terry Paddon’s annual report, released last Thursday, Eastern Health spent at least $3.6 million in overpayments to employees. He also found questionable practices regarding overtime, sick leave and general financial operations.
In response, Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski told The Telegram last week that in the case of overtime, running a health-care operation poses unique challenges.
She said the overtime costs may seem large, but when the authority has to cover after-hours calls and have specialists available, there’s a cost associated with that.
People have told The Telegram they’ve discovered during recent visits with loved ones hospitalized at the Health Sciences Centre and St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital that evening snacks are no longer provided and when patients have asked, they have been told the service has been discontinued.
Patients receive supper at around 5 p.m. and breakfast at around 8 a.m., with nothing in between.
When contacted about the issue Wednesday, Eastern Health said evening snacks were eliminated at both hospitals in October 2013, which is consistent with the practices of other facilities under its authority as well as facilities across the country.
“The elimination of evening snacks to patient bedsides at the Health Sciences Centre and the St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital was identified as an operational improvement initiative to save $97,000 and reduce 1.8 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees through attrition,” said the emailed statement.
FTE is a measure used to count hours of work equivalent to a full-time position.
The health authority’s statement said evening snacks will continue to be provided for patients who are on special or therapeutic diets who have been prescribed evening snacks by their clinical dieticians.
“We also recognize that some patients may be hungry outside of regular meal hours. As such, we will continue to stock snacks, including juice, milk, tea, coffee, bread and crackers on the units for patients who request it,” said the statement.
Eastern Health said in an email to The Telegram later Wednesday it will remind staff that snacks can be made available when people ask and if patients have had a different experience, the health authority offered an apology.
During a news conference on May 29, 2012, Eastern Health announced the initiatives it would take to improve operations in order to balance the budget. Part of that is the elimination of 550 full-time equivalent positions to save about $43 million.
The elimination of evening snacks was another initiative.
“What upsets me is for the sake of $97,000, Eastern Health management seems to be more concerned about operational improvement than about something that is good for the patient,” said Michael.
“I’m really shocked at this, that the management of Eastern Health would be satisfied to do this, calling it an improvement of operations. The patient has to be at the centre of what is an improvement and this is not an improvement for the good of the patient.”
As Eastern Health has previously stated, as part of the initiatives no permanent employee would be laid off and the reduction of the FTEs would occur through attrition.
“If an employee’s permanent position has been impacted by any initiative, the employee would have been redeployed to another program or service area within Eastern Health,” says the authority’s emailed statement.
Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) confirmed that her members provided night snacks to patients, but their hours weren’t reduced when the service was cancelled.
“The people who really are directly affected and suffering are the patients,” Furlong told The Telegram Wednesday.
That would be on two fronts, she said. First, by not being able to have a snack, either because they aren’t mobile or have no family around; and second, because the task is downloaded onto nurses if snacks are requested or ordered.
“How unreasonable is that, really? And there’s lots of people who won’t ask for one if nothing is brought to them. And a lot of people in hospital are not able to get up and go to the kitchen and put on the kettle. It really is nickle and diming people,” she said.