Eastern Health held its annual general meeting in Clarenville this year, highlighting achievements for the 2018-19 fiscal year with members of the board of trustees, public and media in attendance.
Following the second year of a three-year strategic plan, board chair Leslie O’Reilly, trustee Dr. Peter Ford, Heather Hanrahan of the Department of Health and Community Services, and CEO David Diamond outlined many of Eastern Health’s improvements and efficiencies.
Their approach focused on five “pillars” for effective care. They are access, quality and safety, population health, a healthy workplace and sustainability.
They also touted new programs and equipment, like an MRI at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s, and expansion of the Doorways single session mental health walk-in services.
“The achievements that you’ve heard this morning…all happened in an environment where our staff, physicians and management team are under incredible pressure with increasing demands and expectations,” said Diamond, thanking the employees.
He adds the demand for acute care services has increased 13 per cent over the last five years. Demand for the emergency departments over the past couple of years has increased by about five per cent.
Regarding sustainability, Diamond says they’ve implemented efficiency methods like “Steamplicity” food service and a food waste audit which realized about $1.5 million in savings.
To read the full performance report, with many more statistics regarding Eastern Health’s provision of care, go to www.easternhealth.ca/apr.
Questions from patients
There were some concerns brought forward by patients of Eastern Health through questions to its board and CEO.
Roy Carpenter of the Clarenville area had a plea for Eastern Health to help lower unaffordable drug prices.
He told the AGM he was able to find a drug through a blind clinical study that helps him with his psoriasis.
However, at the end of the year he will no longer be able to afford the drug, even with his insurance coverage.
Diamond was able to direct Carpenter to an Eastern Health doctor attending the AGM, to assist him with his particular concerns.
For Donald Hutchens, who traveled to the meeting from the St. John’s area, he had several points of contention to present.
Hutchens acknowledged public notice about the meeting needed longer, more prominent promotion.
He also presented his dissatisfaction with the overall care he’s received from Eastern health over the past six years. He says, over that period, he’s had multiple cancer operations, rounds of chemotherapy and stays in hospital in St. John’s.
“During that time, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the services of Eastern Health,” he said at the AGM.
“My observation has been that you have a number of major problems still at Eastern Health.”
While he acknowledged he received excellent care at the cancer clinic, his lengthy wait times at the emergency rooms were “well beyond the national objectives,” calling the service “terrible.”
“This is an ongoing major problem. It’s not something recent. It’s an indication that the service is in crisis and I believe that Eastern Health should make this one of their top priorities.”
Hutchens also expressed there is a morale and absenteeism issue within the organization.
Diamond responded that they’re very aware of the challenges with emergency care. He called the situation a “canary in a coal mine,” indicating it's a result of other issues within their system.
“We’re looking at ways to address that,” he said, recognizing average wait times are not ideal.
He says the board will discuss at subsequent meetings, new models and opportunities for primary care — like the after-hours clinics opened in St. John’s and Clarenville.
Hutchens concluded he was his commitment to seeing proper change in the way Eastern Health is run, and will continue to attend future meetings..
He vowed to participate until his health no longer allowed him to, or when Eastern Health is in the 10 percentile of any health care system in all of Canada.
Dr. Ford presented the report of the finance committee, including adopting the audited financial statements and auditor’s report.
This presentation also included some details on the numbers of Eastern Health:
• Eastern Health has 12,636 employees;
• This includes 696 physicians (241 salaried positions);
• For May 2018-19 fiscal period, cash-based operating expenses totaled $1.595 billion;
• 76 per cent of these expenses were spent directly on patient care;
• During the fiscal year, Eastern Health incurred an operating cash deficit of $17.8 million, offset by a one-time $16.2 million funding receipt from government;
• A year-end total accrual surplus was realized in 2018-19 of $55.8 million due to a reduction of severance liability associated with collective terms and conditions;
• The surplus was applied to the accumulated deficit.