Initiatives within Prairie Mountain Health to save money resulted in staffing shortages and put the health region in a poor position to start the COVID-19 pandemic, the Manitoba NDP is alleging.
On Monday, the NDP released a document obtained by a freedom of information request from the health region showing how much money it saved from sustainability initiatives in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 fiscal years.
The document shows that in the 2018-19 fiscal year, PMH saved $1,316,105 from eliminating and/or restructuring non-clinical positions and administrative costs.
Though the report in question contains information on how much money was projected to be saved compared to the final savings, those sections have been redacted under a rule that allows information to be withheld if it might reveal advice or proposals made for a public body or minister.
The sustainability initiatives for 2019-20 contain more information.
There were 10 such initiatives, including a reduction in equivalent full-time positions ($19,677 saved), eliminating non-clinical positions ($114,000 saved), delayed filling of vacant positions ($825,156 saved), no coverage for staff on sick leave or vacation ($144,550 saved), underfilling positions ($199,370 saved), encouraging employees to take voluntary unpaid days off ($404,241 saved), aligning to the provincial standard of hours of care per patient day ($132,090 saved), reducing contract costs ($92,784 saved), reducing supply costs ($173,723 saved) and reducing travel costs ($33,446).
Delayed filling of positions, the document explains, happens "where possible to do so without impacting patient care [when] positions are left vacant for a period of time with staff turnover occurs."
Not covering staff off for sick or vacation days happens "where possible to do so due to low volume/occupancy." Staff who aren’t required to be replaced when away "are allowed to request unpaid days off in addition to their paid vacation days."
"I think the information we’re putting out today really shows a plan in place," Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew told the Sun in a Monday phone interview. "The [Progressive Conservatives] have tried to say ‘Oh, you know, short-staffing issues are the result of COVID or other circumstances outside of our control,’ but this really helps to disprove that and shows that the government was directing a lot of different techniques to use that eventually resulted in the staffing crisis that we continue to see in our health-care system today."
Though these vacancies have existed since before the pandemic, Kinew argued they made things worse for the Prairie Mountain Health region when the pandemic hit.
In early August, Kinew held a media conference outside of Brandon Regional Health Centre to talk about how PMH had spent $24 million to hire nurses from private agencies from January 2019 through May 2021.
Those costs, he believes, are connected to these sustainability initiatives.
"If you put these pieces of evidence together, you’re seeing a plan that the PC government put in place that explains what we might think of as the symptoms we were talking about earlier," Kinew said. "Some of the symptoms being vacancy rates in Prairie Mountain and really high amounts of money spent on agency nurses. It shows that these health cuts are not only damaging our system and the health care that patients receive, but they’re also not cost-effective in the long run because we’re paying more and more money in more expensive ways to provide health care."
In a short statement sent to the Sun by a spokesperson for Manitoba Health and Seniors Care, it was denied that these reductions affected care.
"Leading into the pandemic, Prairie Mountain Heath was able to identify efficiencies by reducing supply costs, travel costs, and non-clinical administrative positions," the statement reads. "Patient care was not affected by these changes. In 2020/21, PMH received $12 million in additional COVID-19 funding and is forecasted to receive an additional $14.6 million for 2021/22."
The Sun also reached out to Prairie Mountain Health for comment, but a spokesperson deferred to Manitoba Health.
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