Gov't says new health authorities working well
Combined $4-million budgetary surplus between two authorities was the first in 10 years
By ADAM BOWIE
canadaeast news service
Published Saturday July 3rd, 2010
FREDERICTON - Provincial health officials say a lesser budget increase paired with a surplus shows the restructuring of health authorities worked.
The combined $4-million budgetary surplus reported by New Brunswick’s two regional health authorities happened despite a smaller funding increase than the ones provided in previous years.
This is the first time in more than 10 years that the Department of Health wasn’t responsible for millions of dollars in budgetary deficits tied to its regional health authorities.
The northern-based Vitalité Health Network, formerly known as Regional Health Authority A, had $4.9 million left in its coffers at the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year.
The Horizon Health Network reported a $900,000-deficit during that period.
Joey Caissie, vice-president of finance and corporate services for the Vitalité Health Network, said health officials from across the province have been working diligently to maintain quality health-care services, but also to manage their funds efficiently and effectively.
“We were able to put in financial controls and approval processes,” he said.
“(That was not) to diminish the quality of care, but to understand how things were spent and how to better distribute the dollars we had.”
The Vitalite Health Network will be able to use the surplus to invest in one-time expenditures, such as for the purchase of new equipment or renovations, etc.
Back in 2006-07, the Department of Health gave the eight former health authorities a total of $1.112 billion to pay for their services.
They reported a $46-million deficit at the end of that fiscal year.
In 2007-08, the eight health authorities received a total budget of $1.216 billion — a budgetary increase of 9.4 per cent. When that period ended, there was a collective $44-million deficit.
The following year in 2008-09, the budget jumped by 6.2 per cent to a total of $1.292 billion. The health authorities were restructured from eight regional bodies down to two in September 2008. Officials reported a $29-million deficit.
For 2009-10, a budget of $1.362 billion was provided to the two health authorities for their first full year of operations under the new structure. That’s a funding increase of 5.4 per cent.
The $4-million combined surplus occurred despite the smaller budgetary increase than in previous years and as the health authorities learned to manage the growth of health-spending more effectively.
Between the 2006-07 and 2008- 09 fiscal years, health spending increased by an average of 8.85 per cent. In 2009-10, the regional health authorities reported increases to spending of only 4.63 per cent.
Caissie said the health authority was also able to save millions of dollars because of several external factors.
“There’s about a half a million dollars that we saw in declines in volumes in some areas — mostly in surgery — which was due to shortages in anesthetists,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there, that makes our (waiting) lists a little longer.”
Caissie said those recruitment challenges had a major effect on employee costs.
“There are a lot of areas where we have shortages and (where) we anticipated that we wouldn’t have that many vacant positions by the end of the year,” he said.
“Most are in professional (positions), like pharmacy, audiology, X-ray (technologists), lab (technologists).
We also have some in specialized nursing areas. It adds up pretty quickly.”
He said the health authority would like to step up its recruitment efforts this year, in spite of the cost savings the authority experienced.
“From a health-care perspective, we’re gearing up and refining our recruiting techniques to try to have better success,” he said.
Caissie said the health authority also saved about $1.6 million in expenditures because of the mild winter.
Health Minister Mary Schryer said she believes the restructuring has helped the province trim expenses tied to the duplication of services.
“We had eight different health authorities — eight different accounting persons and so the consolidation definitely saved money,” she said.
“What (our government) wanted to be able to do was put that money back into the health-care system.”
She said it’ll be up to officials with the two regional health authorities to continue this trend into the future.
“We need to be financially sustainable, and who better than to find those savings than the people that work in that system every day,” she said.