To Our Community
When we announced our operating plan for 2016/17, we communicated to you and to the local media that the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital was choosing not to release details about the specific roles impacted out of respect for those directly impacted by ensuring they were fully informed by their employer and not external sources.
On Feb. 18, we were asked to respond to questions posed by the St. Thomas Times Journal motivated by a media release from the president of OPSEU. Many of you are aware that STEGH has been in contract negotiations with OPSEU and did discuss our budget plans with local union representatives prior to our budget announcement. The TJ chose to post their story the evening of Feb. 18 before we could provide our response. Transparency is important to us, as is accuracy and respecting those employees directly impacted by these difficult decisions.
Below, in italics, is the response provided to the Times Journal on the morning of Feb. 19.
In total, four layoffs notices were issued including 1 FTE in each of the following areas: health records, information technology, OR scheduling, and finance.
We are obligated to adhere to terms of the union collective agreements related to layoff. This process means we have to look at things like offers of early retirement and seniority and “bumping”. As this process continues to unfold, at this stage we can confirm that fewer than four layoffs will actually occur.
With respect to other reductions and changes, we can confirm that the Outpatient Lab is closing effective April 1, 2016. The Outpatient Lab currently operates 17 hours per week. The demand for Outpatient Lab services at STEGH has been declining for some time. Provincially, we are also seeing a decline in the number of hospitals that continue to provide these services. We believe that patients will be well served via already established laboratory services in the community. The closure of the Outpatient Lab will not impact patients who attend a Pre-Admit appointment or receive transfusions in the Ambulatory or services in our Chemotherapy departments. These patients will continue to have their lab services provided at STEGH.
We will be consolidating gastric diagnostic imaging services, currently spread across 4 days per week, into two days per week while seeing the same patient volume and providing the same service. This will result in reduced part time hours for our medical radiology technologists.
STEGH previously converted 1 FTE in maintenance to two .5 FTEs, one of which remains vacant. We will not be filling this vacancy.
As we previously communicated, we have used a number of initiatives to meet our $1 million target to achieve a balanced budget for 2016/17. In total, we have reduced by 11.5 fulltime equivalent staff (FTEs) through early retirements, attrition, not filling existing vacancies (the majority of which are in management/administration), reduction in hours, and layoffs. It is important to say again that since hospital costs are 75% human resources based, it is difficult for any hospital to achieve a balanced budget in 2016/17 without eventually impacting jobs. Strategies to increase revenue have also been implemented. These include for example increasing collections on billable services like casts, crutches, and airboots, and semi-private/private accommodation. We are also enhancing our contract management to ensure we are sourcing cost-effective vendors (ie: Canadian vendors when possible given the value of Canadian dollar).
For the past five years, we have used our continuous improvement strategy to make changes that have allowed us to absorb escalating costs and maintain the provincially mandated balanced budget. Like other Ontario hospitals, as we enter our fifth year in a 0% annual increase environment, it has become increasingly difficult to make changes at a pace that keeps up with rising costs.
Finally, and as previously communicated, STEGH’s management team has been reduced by 26% since 2010 while overall staff has increased by 7% and nursing by 8%. STEGH agrees with the OPSEU quote in its recent media release that states it supports administrative staff as part of the team “that make the hospital function.” With respect to management salaries at all levels, a review of the annual “’sunshine list’” of reported public sector salaries will reveal that STEGH salaries are in line, and often lower than comparable hospitals.
I appreciate that these difficult decisions will impact many others beyond those directly affected. Employees, physicians and volunteers at STEGH can be justifiably proud of the excellent care they provide to our community and I am confident that we will all continue to do so as these changes occur.