LHINs – Funding in a time of scarcity

This spring’s provincial budget set aside a three per cent base funding increase for community-based health care agencies this year. That doesn’t mean Community Care Access Centres, Canadian Mental Health Association branches or other local agencies will necessarily receive that amount.

The dilemma for the Local Health Integration Networks is whether to pass on an across–the-board increase that amounts to less than this spring’s Consumer Price Index, or whether to split that modest increase to address specific problems within the regional health care system? Do you make the situation worse for some agencies by slashing their funding increase to improve the situation for high-priority agencies faced with significant challenges? Either way, you know somebody is going to be unhappy. Worst still, does the absence of adequate funding for some agencies show up in new unforeseen challenges for next year?

The Central East LHIN passed a motion today that effectively cleaved the across-the-board funding increase in half – to 1.5 per cent – while using the remaining funds to address some serious problems within the LHIN. For those receiving only the 1.5 per cent, they will be in good company with the hospitals, most of whom will receive a similar base increase for a second year in a row.

 What is important to stress is that these are base increases, not total increases.

As we have seen with the hospitals, while the base was 1.5 per cent, many hospitals increased their bottom line by more than 4 per cent last year thanks to a variety of budget envelopes and increases in own-source revenues. For some agencies, particularly the very small ones, 1.5 per cent could turn out to be the total they do receive. James Meloche, a Senior Director with the CE LHIN, said 1.5 per cent could amount to as little as $900 for some agencies.

The 1.5 per cent the LHIN is reallocating is not a huge amount – about $5 million to support a population of 1.4 million, or about 11 per cent of Ontario’s population.  That’s about $3.50 per resident. This is on a provincial health budget of $47 billion.

While Don Drummond hammers away at unsustainable costs, there are no huge funding increases here at the health care coalface.

Clearly the region has a capacity problem, particularly when it comes to placing seniors into care following a hospital stay.

The LHIN has decided that it will address the problem by targeting the problem further upstream. By providing improved supports in the home, the LHIN hopes to avoid the arrival of seniors in the region’s already crowded emergency departments. Keeping people healthy is far more likely to be a winning strategy.

That does not necessarily mean more money for the CCAC – in fact, even with an allocation of almost half the available money, the CCAC will receive slightly less than the three per cent.

The LHIN is betting that more assisted living – including home making and falls prevention, among other services – will help keep seniors healthier in their homes and avoid hospital admissions.

The Oshawa/Whitby area will also be targeted, particularly for increased support for mental health and addictions. With a struggling economy, the communities have been hard hit by the recession, a situation that is putting pressure on health care providers.

“Clearly we have an issue at Lakeridge Health,” said Meloche. “People live in the park and they come to the emergency department for care.”

Fortunately one of the few mental health agencies in Ontario that will receive patients with concurrent addictions problems is already in the Oshawa community.  While several years ago Pinewood/Destiny Manor faced closure from a Ministry that wanted the hospital to cut unfunded mental health services, the service is now considered a major asset for the LHIN.

The LHIN is also trying to take some of the pressure off the Northeast part of its region by providing about $259,000 to establish a rural-based palliative care team.

While these are the priorities of the Central East LHIN, it does not necessarily mean that other LHINs will treat the funding in this manner.

* * *

The Central East LHIN used their “Urgent Priority Funding” to increase the volume of MRIs available in the region.  Senior Director Paul Barker pointed out that while the government was generously funding new MRI machines in the region, the actual funding for scans had gone down. The LHIN is tapping into this fund to provide $285,327 to buy 1,096 more MRI hours. Most hospitals can conduct about 1.5 scans per hour. The average wait for an MRI scan in the LHIN was 77 days as of July. One board member asked how it was Ontario hospitals could perform MRI scans for $260 an hour when they were charging $1600 for the same service in the United States. Barker pointed out that it may have something to do with the free market and profit-taking.

 As part of its planned to establish an umbrella organization to coordinate specialized geriatric services, the LHIN named the Northumberland Hills Hospital the “host agency.” A small secretariat will be set up at the hospital to work on a strategy to better deliver services to frail seniors. The immediate task will be to hire a project manager, recruit staff, establish office space and work on governance issues. The LHIN had found service providers, seniors and their families were largely unaware of what services were available in the LHIN. 2,100 seniors account for a third of all acute spending on seniors in the LHIN.  By focusing on the needs of this population, it could have a substantial impact on the overall use of acute care services in the LHIN.

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