Administration costs represented 4.51 per cent of the total $557-million budget for the Prairie Mountain Health authority in 2012-13 — down from 4.69 per cent from the previous year. The amalgamation of the Assiniboine, Parkland and Brandon regional health authorities was designed to cut administration expenses.
In its first audit since merging the Assiniboine, Parkland and Brandon regional health authorities, the newly minted Prairie Mountain Health region posted a shortfall of $3.45 million in its 2012-13 operating year.
"Three million isn’t that large in the context of our budget, but would I like to come in on the other side of that — absolutely," CEO Penny Gilson said prior to the health region releasing its annual report last night at the Victoria Inn in Brandon.
The overrun represents 0.62 per cent of the entire $557-million budget. The numbers would be slightly more attractive if a $1.3-million combined surplus from last year hadn’t been clawed back by Manitoba Health after Health Minister Theresa Oswald announced amalgamations in April 2012.
The mergers were designed to save money by reducing administration costs.
Last year, administrative expenses represented 4.51 per cent of the total budget compared to 4.69 the year before.
Gilson said 10 positions were eliminated in PMH as part of a provincial-wide mandate to axe between 30-35 executive positions.
"There will be some areas where over time through attrition we should be able to reduce numbers of staff in administration areas," Gilson said.
Speaking to a room of approximately 65 — made up of nurses, administrators, board of directors, students and community members — Gilson said the amalgamation process at times was "chaos."
"Amalgamating three regions certainly has its challenges," Gilson said, "especially given the geography of the new region."
The new RHA consists of 67,000 square kilometres, representing 164,000 residents.
Within the region, Gilson oversees 29 health centres, 795 acute care beds, 81 transitional care beds, 42 long-term care facilties, 8,335 employees and 39 emergency medical service stations.
However, emergency room numbers have fluctuated recently as communities in southwestern Manitoba face physician shortages that have forced shared emergency services between Killarney, Boissevain and Deloraine.
"It’s not ideal," Gilson said. "But at least by all the physicians working together we were able to keep all three sites open."
The compromise means residents who live east of Killarney could face close to an hour-long ambulance ride when emergency services are in Deloraine.
Gilson said she has heard from residents who believe that’s too far for people with an emergency to travel.
"I probably agree with that and we want to improve it."
According to the PMH website, Birtle, Boissevain, Deloraine, Hamiota, Killarney, Melita, Minnedosa, Rivers, Shoal Lake/Strathclair and Virden are all currently looking for physicians.
Killarney-Turtle Mountain Mayor Rick Pauls believes it’s time to look at a new delivery method for emergency services in the area.
"It’s not a good situation and it’s dangerous," Pauls said about the RHA’s decision to share services across three hospitals. "The RHA is trying to keep everything open and in the process they are closing 50 per cent of the emergency rooms, and you don’t ever know which ones are open. In the case of an emergency, I don’t know anyone who is going to look at the calendar on the fridge to see which emergency room they have to go to."
The new RHA is too large, according to Pauls, who would also like to see more professional administrators hired versus the practice of hiring health professionals, who may not have managerial experience.
Politics, Pauls said, often gets in the way of common-sense approaches to problems that have existed for decades.
"No one wants to hear that some hospitals need to be shut down, but they are already being shut down," Pauls said. "When it comes to emergency services, there should be two regional centres in southwestern Manitoba."
The shift to regional centres would make attracting and retaining doctors easier as many doctors avoid or leave rural sites due to the expectation that they will be on-call many weekends.
"We need to take politics out of health care. People are playing games with our health and our lives — and it’s not right."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 17, 2013