Privatization an option for WRHA as it searches for $83M in savings

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s CEO says everything is on the table, including privatizing services, as the health region works to fulfil a mandate by the Manitoba government to find $83 million in savings in the coming year.

'Safe to say there will be changes,' CEO says as health authority told by province to balance books

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has been told to find $83 million in savings in the coming year. The authority's president and CEO says everything, including the possibility of privatizing services, is on the table. (CBC News)

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's CEO says everything is on the table, including privatizing services, as the health region works to fulfil a mandate by the Manitoba government to find $83 million in savings in the coming year.

Milton Sussman warned that while the WRHA will maintain a high quality of care, he cannot guarantee that jobs won't be lost and Winnipeggers won't feel the impact of such a lofty goal.

"I think it's safe to say there will be changes. There has to be to achieve that kind of savings," Sussman told CBC News Friday.

The CBC first reported Wednesday that all five of Manitoba's health regions have been told by the province to balance their books and find savings for 2017-18.

Each region was given a savings target by the government that it must achieve as part of that mandate. For the WRHA, it's $83 million.

"It is a large number. I don't want to convey that there may not be staff impacts, but we haven't assessed what those might be," Sussman said.

In 2016-17, its $2.6 billion budget is projected to wind up $30 million in the red.

Milton Sussman, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, can't guarantee there won't be job cuts as the authority looks for $83 million in savings. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The privatization of services, including MRI scans and cataract surgeries, isn't off the table, but Sussman said the health authority is still analysing its options and wading through savings proposals from various programs before any decisions are made.

"I don't want to speculate that it is something that is going to happen. What I am saying is we are looking at a whole range of options and if someone can provide a high quality at a lower cost, we have to consider those kinds of things," he said.

"Where is makes sense, it might be something we look at."

Executive and management positions will be the first positions the WRHA looks at before it delves into cutting any other positions, he said.

"If we were going to do anything, that is where we would start."

Advice from KPMG

Sussman has seen the much-anticipated interim review from KPMG, the consultant group charged by the Progressive Conservative government to find savings and efficiencies in the province's health care system.

He couldn't go into details about what the report entails, but said it identified "significant savings" that could be found in the system — mostly in staffing.

That includes staffing levels, overtime and the the overuse of "constant care" — a form of supervision that requires a staff member to provide one-on-one care.

"Those are things we are looking at. We are looking at a variety of options, nothing has been finalized," he said.

The review will be used to make decisions for the upcoming April 11 budget and won't be released until after that date, Premier Brian Pallister told media Thursday.

A review looking for efficiencies in the health care system will be used to make decisions for the upcoming provincial budget but won't be released until after the budget comes down, Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Sussman said he wasn't surprised by the findings in the interim review. The first part focused on identifying the potential for savings and the second stage — which he hasn't seen — is about putting together a formal plan to tackle those savings, he said.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen admitted it will be a challenge for the WRHA to find the savings, but said the search for savings in health care is happening across the country.

"We know that the system was unsustainable in the way that it was growing, so we had discussions with each regional health authority," Goertzen said Thursday after question period.

"They are going through that process now to look at places where there might be the ability to reduce management, which is certainly one of the places that has to get looked at … they'll look for duplication of programs and I am sure they will look at places where we are doing things that might not be done in other provinces."