Prairie North balances budget

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June 4, 2015 8:15 AM

The Prairie North Health Region (PNHR) managed to balanced the books for the 2015-16 operating year, despite facing some tough fiscal challenges. Finding efficiencies in what CEO David Fan says were main areas, they were able to close the gap without cutting programs, closing beds or laying off employees.

Board members recently authorized an operating budget of $278.5 million which will be used for priorities like seniors’ care, primary health care and acute care.

“It feels good because we started with a very challenging task to be honest,” said Fan of the balanced budget.

“For months before the provincial budgets were tabled both in Saskatchewan and Alberta, we knew, given the economy as it is, given the tanking oil prices adversely affecting both provinces, we knew the budget was going to be a tough one.”

The health region found enough savings internally in areas like sick time and overtime management, sharing costs with other regional health authorities (RHA), and other general efficiencies to not only meet the funding gap but, to invest in new initiatives like developing a third operating room and an after-hours respiratory service.

Fan says as a region they spend almost $10 million on sick time and overtime yearly, which comes out to roughly $5 million for each. Last year, they brought sick time down by $500,000, proving that finding savings in this area is doable, though Fan said it takes a lot of hard work.

A big part of that was trying to bring down the number of workplace injuries that result in WCB claims and employee time loss. Over the last two years, PNHR was able to reduce workplace injuries by 25 per cent each year and Fan hopes to bring that down to zero, but said it may be impossible to get there.

“The second area we have seen some success in as well is the area of so-called share services. Developing sharing services with surrounding RHAs,” said Fan. “Also, in terms of working with western provinces around group purchasing and sourcing supplies together, when you buy in bulk collectively, you get better prices. We have seen some of those reductions as well.”

One of the other areas involved surgeries and diagnostic procedures and whether or not they are appropriate in a given situation. The health region has met targets in speeding up surgical wait times, but Fan says they are beginning to ask if they are always needed. By seeing if there is something else that can be done before putting patients under the knife, there may be potential savings there as well with less stress on the patient.

“I think those areas helped us close the gap and not have to cut programs and not have to close beds in spite of the fiscal challenges on both sides of the border,” he said. “We haven’t laid anybody off, in fact we added more positions because of all the important things we must do in Lloydminster.”

Fan says a lot of it was also made possible with the help from the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation as the they aided with funding for many of PNHR’s new investments.

“That is something I really want to throw out there and say thank you very much and I appreciate everything they do for us.”

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