Thursday, 06 June 2013 11:08

Cypress Health balances budget despite many pressures

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Cypress Health Region's Executive Director of Finance Larry Allsen at the Cypress Regional Health Authority board meeting on May 30. Cypress Health Region's Executive Director of Finance Larry Allsen at the Cypress Regional Health Authority board meeting on May 30. Matthew Liebenberg/Prairie Post

Despite various financial pressures the Cypress Health Region has been able to balance its operating budget for 2013/14.


The Cypress Regional Health Authority approved a balanced operating budget of $128.7 million at a regular board meeting on May 30.

This is an increase of $3.3 million or 2.6 per cent over the 2012/13 budget of $125.4 million.

““The escalation in costs are nowhere near the seven and eight per cent we’ve seen in past years,” Cypress Health Executive Director of Finance Larry Allsen said.

Remuneration is the main spending item in the budget, with $104.1 million or 81 per cent going towards salaries and benefits for the 1,700 employees in the health region. Other increases in the budget is a result of provincial initiatives that are fully funded.

According to Allsen an amount of $1.7 million was removed from Cypress Health's budget allocation as total efficiency and funding recovery targets. To balance the budget they had to find $1.6 million in general efficiency savings.

The largest portion of these savings is $931,000 from vacancy management. These are positions that are currently vacant within the health region.

“Vacancy management is not an efficiency, it’s just a tool to balance a budget,” he cautioned. “If we are fully staffed we’d really have to start looking at things. We haven’t had to do that in our region yet, but every year is different and it’s not something you can rely on every year.”

Cypress Health CEO Beth Vachon emphasized that the organization is still actively recruiting to fill vacant positions.

“We’re pretty confident we know what percentage of vacancies we’ll have within the region in any given year and that’s fairly consistent,” she explained. “In reality we will capture savings because we may not be able to have somebody in place due to the professionals that we try and recruit and the challenges that go with health care recruitment.”

According to Allsen a number of other steps made it possible to balance the budget, including the elimination of $203,000 of vacant positions that were no longer required and $227,000 in non-salary savings.

He noted that the Cypress Health Employee Staffing and Strategies (CHESS) program, which addresses sick and overtime usage in the region, has been an important tool to identify significant saving over the past four years. It helped to offset the $5.1 million reduction in base budget funding from the Ministry of Health during the same period.

“That is a strategy that we’ve used and been very successful with and people embraced it,” he said. “It doesn’t come without some bumps along the way from staff and from some managers but I think everybody has bought into the program now and we look to even enhance that further.”

This year's budget incorporates a number of new items that are all fully funded Ministry of Health initiatives. It includes the development of a collaborative emergency centre in Shaunavon ($750,000) and the primary health care redesign in Leader ($245,000).

There is also a $129,000 permanent and $390,000 temporary allocation for the provincial surgery initiative to reduce surgical wait times, $40,000 for an enhanced autism three-year pilot project, a healthcare associated infection surveillance project ($50,000) and enhanced children’s oral health ($25,000).

Cypress Health Region will receive two rural locums under the Ministry's physician placement program, but the budget allocation for that must still be determined.

Allsen highlighted a number of pressures faced by the health region. There are increased service demands and expectations and it remains a challenge to recruit staff and physicians for rural services and specialties.

There are deficiencies in the nursing-resident-patient ratios for long-term care, more funding is required for the chemotherapy program and renal dialysis expansion and more resources are required to implement efficiency management strategies.

Provincial funding represents 91.6 per cent of the Cypress Health Region's total operating budget. The remaining revenue is sourced from long-term and home care fees, third party charges and other miscellaneous recoveries.

“It gets difficult every year as the Ministry wants to keep their books balanced and that kinds of trickle down to us,” he said. “So it’s not easy but we’re glad we have an approved balanced budget.”

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Matthew Liebenberg


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