Thursday August 21, 2014

EDITORIAL - SHR deficit not all local issue


The Sunrise Health Region is headed to a deficit on operations for the 2013-14 year.

“We’re forecasting a deficit this year,” said Suann Laurent, CEO and president of SHR at the regular meeting of the SHR Board last week.

At present the operational deficit sits at $1,039,000, a shortfall of about 0.7 per cent on the overall budget. If the deficit remains constant though until the end of the operation’s year, it will be about 0.5 per cent of the overall $218 million budget.

In real terms 0.5 per cent plus-or-minus on a budget of 200-plus million is not something which is particularly worrisome, especially coming on the heels of four balanced years.

Laurent told the Board the deficit situation is primarily a result of the impact of overtime and staff sick-time, which led director Walter Streelasky to question whether the issue was one where the province is simply not providing SHR with sufficient funds?

“I don’t see us getting more money (from the province),” said Laurent.

Board chair Lawrence Chomos picked up on the question.

“Could we use more money? Absolutely,” he said, but added health already takes the lion’s share of provincial funding, and every area -- education, highways etc. -- would say it could use more dollars.

Chomos is right that more dollars are just not going to miraculously arrive from the province.

But the question needs to be asked.

The province has done a nice job of creating a maze for local health boards to maneuver through and when they step on a land mine local Board members take the heat rather than the province.

In terms of health care more things which impact costs are directly influenced by the province, whether it’s an increase in union employee wages, how sick days are dealt with, or the cost of natural gas for heat and electricity for lights.

And much of how a health system is mandated, things such as what personnel must be present for operations, how many nurses on a ward etc.

The ability to manage dollars is increasingly difficult with budgets already stretched, and government has eluded such responsibility by offloading it to local boards.

It is much the same scenario in education.

It’s not like local school boards can opt for lower cost teachers, or offer classes with cheaper out-of-date textbooks, or turn down the heat in a Saskatchewan winter.

Wiggle room locally is limited, yet the province continues to mandate lower spending, especially when inflation is factored in over several years.

So a small deficit like the one being experienced by the SHR, while not ideal, is as much a condition of provincial decision making as it is anything done at the local Board table.



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