PNHR surplus due to staff vacancies

By Rhonda Cooper

As of the end of November, the Prairie North Health Region was running a surplus of $4,357,334, most of which is due to staff vacancies throughout the region.

Jerry Keller, vice-president of finance and technology, noted this has been a bit of an unusual year for the health region due to movement of employees.

“We employ the full-time equivalent of 2,300 positions and two-and-a-half million of that surplus is the equivalent of 60 full-time vacancies,” he said. “Another $900,000 is attributed to medical personnel vacancies – five doctors.”

Despite the empty positions within the system, Keller said the region is keeping up with its care programs. The area experiencing the highest vacancy rate is psychiatric nursing. The rest are spread throughout a variety of departments.

Another item impacting the surplus is the employer matching contributions for employees’ CPP and EI.

“Most of our employees reach their contribution limits around July 1,” he said. “Once that is reached we don’t have to pay those.”

Keller believes the surplus will be closer to $2.5 million by the region’s year end of March 31, which works to approximately one per cent of the total budget.

“One per cent is not unusual,” said Keller. “Unless the government or ministries decide to do something different and they have, on occasion, done that.”

All money is reinvested back into the region. Keller noted a couple of years ago when another surplus occurred, the funds were used to purchase a number of new electric beds in long-term care facilities.

“We went from 15 to 20 per cent electric beds to 80 per cent,” he said. “We look at items that will enhance staff and patient safety.”

Decisions regarding the investment of the surplus will not be made until after the PNHR’s 2012 budget is finalized in the spring.

No gap in doctor coverage

Prairie North Health Region is continuing its recruitment of physicians and nurse practitioners to fill the funded 10 physician and three nurse practitioner positions in the City of Meadow Lake.

Currently the city has 8.5 of the 10 doctor positions and one of the three nurse practitioner positions filled, said Gary Nolin, director of primary care for PNHR. Two of the city’s foreign trained physicians were away in the fall to write exams and take further training, but currently no doctors are scheduled to be away for those reasons. There is one doctor presently on leave, but is expected to return in April.

“There were doctors who were away over Christmas due to holidays,” said Nolin. “But it is understood the other doctors will cover during those periods of time.”

Nolin indicated the health region will also continue to bring in locums when required.

Recruitment is an ongoing process and Meadow Lake may have the services of a new, University of Saskatchewan-trained doctor effective June 4.

“Until we see the whites of their eyes,” said Nolin, “we won’t know for sure.”

As for the vacant nurse practitioner positions, Nolin indicated those professionals are very hard to find because there simply are not enough graduates to meet the demands of the health system.

“If we could get the nurse practitioners, it would free up more of the doctors to be at the hospital, as the NPs would be at the clinic full time,” he said.

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