Savings breakdown for WRHA revealed, staffing efficiencies and hospital overhaul to save over $55M

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Task force recommends closure of 4 western Manitoba emergency rooms

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is expecting to save over $30 million this year through its major overhaul of Winnipeg hospitals and over $25 million from staffing efficiencies, the WRHA confirmed this week.

A budget submission given to the province at the end of last month by the WRHA spells out how it will find its mandated $83 million in savings. Over a quarter of those savings are found through the closure of three emergency departments, along with other major revamps announced last week.

A further $27 million will be found through administrative savings, according to a breakdown provided by the WRHA. The authority's president and CEO Milton Sussman said administrative savings could include cutting down on the number of WRHA offices in the city, leveraging contracts better and buying in bulk.

The move towards closing the Concordia emergency department, turning Seven Oaks and Victoria into urgent care centres and consolidating surgeries will also cut down on overtime costs, he said. Savings will also be found by reducing the use of constant care, where a single support staff worker would be assigned to monitor a patient 24 hours a day, he said.

"We believe there is significant dollars to be achieved in combination of all of these moves together," he said. "Much of it has to do with staffing and how we deploy staffing."

All three categories of savings (clinical, nonclinical and the global staffing efficiencies figure) will include savings found through the 15 per cent cut to management, along with savings found through early retirements, workers leaving positions, and not filling vacant positions.

A spokesperson for the WRHA said they could not provide figures for what staffing changes would look like, or how many staff members will be affected until the province approves its submitted budget. 

Nurses' union worried about patient care with staffing changes

The breakdown offers a window into how the WRHA will operate in the coming year and is the first time the province's largest health authority has put a dollar figure to its hospital overhaul announced last week.

However, it has also raised questions about whether the announced overhaul was a response to austerity measures by the Pallister government or about improving patient care.

"We are sort of getting two different messages, where the WRHA has certainly been clear that they are trying to save money, where government is sort of saying, 'We are revolutionizing so patients get better care," explained Sandi Mowat, the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union.

"And it still hasn't been proven to us how this is going to improve patient care."

If you ask Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, the two aren't mutually exclusive. Saving money can lead to major savings down the line, he said.

"Let's be clear when you are providing better patient outcomes in the system and things are moving more efficiently, the byproduct of that is you generally save more money," Goertzen said Wednesday after question period.

Sussman and the WRHA have told Mowat in writing and verbally that there will be a job in the WRHA for every nurse who wants one. Sussman admits it could be at a different location or a different department.

Mowat says she trusts the WRHA in its intentions, but remains concerned that when everything is said and done there will be cuts to frontline jobs. 

"When all the dust settles and all the changes have happened, if they happen, we are still concerned there will be cuts to frontline nursing positions," she said,

The costs associated with the transition were also revealed by the WRHA, which include about $8 million to increase bed capacity, enhance home care and improve transitional care, Sussman told CBC News Wednesday.

He said one goal for the WRHA will be opening up more beds to reduce its bed capacity from a 94 per cent average to 85 per cent, a figure health experts say is needed to truly slay wait times. 

An additional $1.7 million in capital investment will be made to accommodate the shifting of patients throughout the region.