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Acute care costs put Northern Health in deficit for August

Northern Health was operating in a slight deficit position at the end of August, however the budget is expected to be balanced by year-end.

The net operating deficit was $5.4 million. Revenues were $2.7 million over budget for the period. However, expenditures were also up; $8.1 million over budget.

“(The budget numbers go) up and down month-to-month,” said Cathy Ulrich, Northern Health CEO. “We are working toward balancing budget by year-end.”

To put things in perspective, $5 million equates to about two days of expenses in Northern Health’s $925 million budget.

A $6.7 million budget overage in acute care is primarily due to higher than expected patient volumes at a number of acute care facilities. Additionally, due to a number of vacancies, primarily in specialized nursing positions, actual overtime hours are higher than budgeted.

A $2.7 million budget overage in long term care is primarily due to vacancies in a number of care aide positions across the region resulting in vacant shifts filled at overtime rates.

“Most of the issues we’re experiencing are with recruitment and retention and also increased volumes that often occur at this time of year due to the beginning of flu season,” Ulrich said.

Staffing continues to be a challenge for the agency, which employs more than 8,000 people across northern B.C.

In fiscal year 2019/20 year to date, Northern Health has posted 1,977 non-casual positions; 67 per cent have been filled by internal staff (existing regular and casual staff) and eight per cent have been filled externally (qualified applicants from outside of NH) within 90 days, according to the October human resources report. Some unfilled positions are currently in the competition phase. Positions that remain unfilled for more than 90 days become difficult-to-fill vacancies. In addition to the postings that are filled externally, 11 per cent of approximately 3200 external postings become difficult-to-fill vacancies.

On average, Northern Health hires 1,000 casuals per year, many of these staff successfully bid into permanent, ongoing positions through our internal posting process.

“Where we have success (in recruitment and retention of employees) is in our partnerships with the colleges and universities in the North,” said Ulrich. “For example, of the 127 nurses that graduated last year we have been able to successfully hire 101 of those.”

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