Horizon Health Network announced several initiatives to reduce costs by about $4 million annually, ranging from job cuts, to reduced hours at community health centres and changes in surgery scheduling.
Donald Peters, the president and chief executive officer of the Horizon Health Network, said "change is never easy."
But he stressed that Horizon is mandated to have a balanced budget under the Regional Health Authority Act.
"We understand how difficult these changes may be to a community, to the many partners who work with us to deliver care," he said Wednesday during a news conference at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
'These are difficult fiscal times for our province and they require difficult decisions from Horizon on how we allocate our resources more efficiently and effectively.'
—Donald Peters, Horizon president and CEO
"These are difficult fiscal times for our province and they require difficult decisions from Horizon on how we allocate our resources more efficiently and effectively," Peters said.
The quality and safety of patient care will remain Horizon's top priority, he added.
Among the changes:
- The reassignment of so-called alternative level of care patients, who are tying up acute care beds while they wait for an alternate setting of care such as a nursing home, to designated units rather than being scattered throughout hospitals, as well as a newly designed care model to ensure the specialized care needs of these patients are met.
- Tobique Valley and Queens North Community Health Centres will continue to hold public blood collection clinics and to collect laboratory specimens. However, testing of all specimens will now be completed at the nearest regional hospital.
- The hours of operation at Harvey Health Centre, McAdam Health Centre, and Tobique Valley Community Health Centre in Plaster Rock will change to Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. effective on Nov. 21, instead of the current 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- The Fundy Health Centre will maintain 12-hour days from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but will change its hours of operation on Saturday and Sunday to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which will be effective on Nov. 21.
- Queens North Community Health Centre in Minto will not reopen its palliative care beds, which opened in 2005 and were closed temporarily in 2009, due to a staff shortage. The community will continue to access palliative care services at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, Oromocto Public Hospital and the Extra Mural Program.
- In collaboration with the surgery programs Horizon will work with staff to enable the most efficient and effective scheduling during Christmas and March break periods. All emergency and urgent surgeries will continue to be performed.
- Paid parking will be implemented this spring for the public and staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital, with all of the estimated $250,000 in revenue going back into the hospital. The Miramichi hospital is the only regional hospital that does not currently have paid parking.
- An operational review of food services will be conducted to find best practices and efficiencies. The review will be conducted by an outside source at no cost to the health authority and is expected to be completed within the next several months.
In addition, up to 65 staff members will lose their jobs, Peters said. He could not say how many — if any — of those positions are management.
Horizon employs more than 13,000 people and has a turnover of about 800 positions every year, said Peters.
"We fully expect that any employee who's affected by this will be able to find alternate positions within Horizon," he said.
"Horizon will assist our staff during this transition through the various redeployment programs."
Peters said Horizon has reduced costs by $2.9 million over the past two years through several administrative reductions, including delaying minor renovations such as floor replacements and painting; a review of vacancies, travel and other administrative expenses, such as catering and the use of assorted communication devices.
He said Horizon, with its annual budget of $1 billion, has one of the lowest costs in administration in Canada and is consistently in the bottom five per cent.
Since 2008, Horizon has essentially balanced its budget every year, Peters said.
As of the end of August, the organization is tracking to have a balanced budget, but the most difficult months are yet to come with the flu season, he said.
The provincial government issued a 30-day notice to unionized employees in July that some employees could be laid off.
In August, Health Minister Madeleine Dubé said she was still seeking ways to avoid layoffs in the province's hospitals as she tries to trim her department's expenses.
Laying off staff was not her first option, she said.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees needs to work with the provincial government to find ways to save money, including efficiencies within the system, she added.
"Hopefully there will be no job loss," she said.
Horizon Health Network is the largest health-care organization in Atlantic Canada, operating 12 hospitals and more than 100 medical facilities, clinics and offices.
It provides medical services ranging from acute care to community-based health services to New Brunswick, northern Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island with 1,000 physicians and about 13,000 employees.