How N.L.'s health system will spend $205K today on food alone
Province spent more money on doctors and nurses last year than it received in oil revenue
If you're ever stuck in traffic on the Prince Philip Parkway while driving by the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's, consider this: if it takes you a minute to pass by the sprawling health complex, it costs $866 to run it in those 60 seconds.
That's every minute. Taxpayers fork out about $1.25 million every day to operate patient care at the province's largest hospital complex.
This covers everything from salaries to sundries for the HSC, which includes the General Hospital, the Janeway Child Health Centre and the province's cancer treatment centre. (The expense doesn't include running Memorial University's medical, nursing and pharmacy schools.)
But it doesn't stop there.
Every day, the province spends nearly $1.3 million to pay some 1,200 physicians.
It spends just slightly less than that on wages for about 5,200 registered nurses.
Sick leave for health-care workers? The daily expenditure is $144,000, or about $6,000 an hour.
Big breakfast bill
But the daily food bill is even higher. Food services for hospital patients and people living in long-term care facilities ring in at more than $205,000.
To put it another way, the province spends more than $68,000 to serve breakfast to patients and residents each day.
These figures are compiled from data that CBC News obtained through an access to information request.
They are just a few of the many examples of why health care — at just under $3 billion per year — is the single-largest budget area in the province.
It is also why health care is now at the centre of so much debate as the Liberal government of Premier Dwight Ball grapples with a staggering debt and massive deficits.
"Right now it's not sustainable," said Memorial University economist Wade Locke, who describes health-care spending as the No. 1 challenge facing the government.
A workforce the size of Corner Brook
In 2016-17, health care accounted for roughly 36 per cent of the province's expenditures, and it's easy to see why.
Fifteen hospitals. Twenty-three health centres. Twenty-one long term care homes. Sixty-six medical clinics.
The number of people working at the four regional health authorities? Just under 19,000. That's equivalent to the combined populations of Gander and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
The province paid more in compensation to doctors and nurses in 2016-17 — just over $1 billion — than it made in royalties from offshore oil.
It cost the government more money to operate the regional hospital in Corner Brook last year — $130 million — than it did to fund both the RCMP and the RNC.
Mapping the costs
To help reveal what institution costs what, CBC produced this map. Each hospital, nursing home and community clinic is represented; mouse over the entry to see what it cost to operate in the 2016-17 fiscal year. Use the zoom in communities where there are several nearby institutions.
Highest spending, unhealthy population
Newfoundland and Labrador spends more per capita than everyone else in the country, but without the expected results. The province leads the way in categories such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information estimates the province will spend $5,455 per person on health care this fiscal year, which is about 25 per cent higher than the national average.
|Newfoundland & Labrador||$5,455|
But a deeper examination of the institute's data reveals that per capita spending on hospitals is nearly 50 per cent higher than the national average, while spending on long-term care homes is nearly 70 per cent higher.
It's not an unreasonable question to ask whether or not all of these institutions are needed.- Economist Wade Locke
"It's not an unreasonable question to ask whether or not all of these institutions are needed, and if they're not needed, what happens if we take one or two or a lot away?" said Locke.
Health spending accounts for 12.3 per cent of the province's gross domestic product, nearly a full percentage point higher than the Canadian benchmark.
The one category where the province may be getting better value is physician spending, which is below the national average, according to the institute.
Most agree that if the province is serious about addressing its dire financial situation, it cannot do so without tackling health care.
"If the government has to take hold of its fiscal position in some way, we understand that because we have to live within our means," said Robert Thompson, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA), which represents physicians.
Deputy minister ignites firestorm of controversy
But it's a touchy subject.
Should we close health-care facilities? Lay off nurses and doctors? Expect citizens to take more responsibility for their own health?
In some communities, health-care jobs and spending form the economic backbone. But that's no reason for inaction, said Locke.
The province's deputy minister of health, John Abbott, ignited a storm of controversy last month when he suggested we have too many physicians and registered nurses.
He also said this: "We have put in a lot of services and facilities that we no longer need and no longer can afford. Now we have to figure out in a collective way how we can rewrite the balance."
Health Minister John Haggie quickly distanced himself from his deputy's comments, saying Abbott had "just one voice of many" in the debate over health-care spending.
Haggie declined an interview request for this story, saying he looks forward to a "robust" discussion on health-care spending during upcoming public consultations in the lead-up to the 2018-19 provincial budget.
The message from the registered nurses' union, meanwhile, is that more nurses are needed.
"Research shows when you have RNs in the system at the right numbers, you save money," said union president Debbie Forward.
Politics a factor
But Locke says there's a problem with addressing the challenges in health care. It's called politics.
"The problem, I guess, is whether or not these kind of changes can be made in the short term, and in the short term people are focused on getting re-elected," Locke said.
Locke has been shining a lens on health-care spending and outcomes, and has called on the province to establish a special task force, or even a Royal Commission, to review a system that serves a rapidly aging population, spread thinly over a wide geographic area.
The NLMA has also suggested a systematic review of all facilities and services.
The idea has been flatly rejected by the government.
"There's nothing new that will come out of a Royal Commission," Ball said recently.
MUN to host health-care forum
So Locke is taking another approach.
He's spearheading a public forum at the university on March 7 that asks this question about health care: "Can we afford to pay? And can we afford not to pay?"
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"Whether you dismiss it or not, that's fine, but the more information you have to take into account will allow you to make a better decision," Locke said