Sudbury hospital working towards balanced budget despite having highest occupancy rate in Ontario

·3 min read

Sudbury's Health Sciences North (HSN) is planning to have a balanced budget at the end of the current fiscal years regardless of the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is also despite the fact that HSN has the highest occupancy level of any hospital in Ontario right now.

That optimistic outlook was presented Friday morning by hospital CEO and president Dominic Giroux who was commenting on the hospital's performance in a year-end interview.

Giroux had high praise for his staff but said the pressure to stay ahead of the pandemic while also getting caught up on the backlog of surgeries will continue in the new year.

He said he is urging staff to recharge as much as they can during the holiday season because "the marathon will continue in the new year."

Giroux said all workers at HSN continue to “face intense pressures” and part of that is due to the fact that HSN is the Ontario hospital with the highest occupancy level at the moment.

“And so that definitely puts a lot of stress on the frontline staff. Meanwhile they continue to bring innovation, to introduce new and innovative procedures, to develop new guidelines, to continue to increase the quality and the safety of the care that we provide to our patients," said Giroux.

He explained that Ontario Health tracks the occupancy levels of all hospitals in Ontario.

"And of all the hospitals with more than 100 acute care beds, we are No. 1 in terms of occupancy levels, which is further evidence that Health Sciences North was built too small."

Ontario Hospital Association statistics revealed that in October, HSN was running at 108 per cent occupancy. On Friday morning, the hospital said the rate had edged up to 109 per cent.

On the budget front, Giroux said the reality is red ink.

"All hospitals are right now in the red because of the pandemic response," he said.

"Health Sciences North had balanced its budget for the last two fiscal years and approved a balanced budget for the current fiscal year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But I have to say the province has been very responsive in supporting hospitals," he added.

Giroux said the Ontario Ministry of Health has asked the hospital to document all the additional and unexpected costs associated with the pandemic and so far the ministry has been refunding those costs he said.

"They have also funded the operations for the (COVID) assessment centres, for the lab activity associated with the pandemic. Health Sciences North is the primary lab for COVID-19 swabs in Northeastern Ontario," said Giroux.

"And the ministry's commitment is to provide as much funding flexibility to hospitals to bring each hospital to their pre-COVID financial position," he added.

"So in our case, we were in a balanced position before the pandemic so we will continue to work with the ministry in the coming months to enable HSN to reduce it's shortfall this fiscal year and next year as much as possible, despite the pressures associated with the pandemic.

One thing for sure said Giroux is that going forward, hospital health care is going to be done differently.

"I think all hospitals have had to reinvent how they provide care to patients. Here at HSN we have seen a significant increase in virtual care. We've done more virtual care appointments in the first few months of this year than in the full 12 months of the previous fiscal year," he said.

"This week alone we launched a new virtual service in the Emergency Department that will provide the opportunity for up to 32 patients a day to see an emergency department physician virtually.

He added there is little doubt that the new physical distancing requirement means that some activities might not be as efficient as they used to be.

"But we will take all steps required to continue to provide timely quality care for our patients."

Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com