Sudbury

Mushkegowuk Council grand chief concerned about Weeneebayko's $21M deficit

The grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council is worried the deficit at the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority is a crisis that may impact coastal communities along James Bay.

Health authority and government officials to create a plan to balance the books in the next year or two

Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon, seen here in 2007, said the $21-million deficit the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority faces is 'totally unfair.' (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council is worried the deficit at the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority is a crisis that may impact coastal communities along James Bay.

Weeneebayko has compiled a $21-million deficit, according to Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon. 

Ontario law states health authorities must balance their budgets.

The $21 million didn't just pop up in one fiscal year.- Grand Chief Jonothan Solomon

Solomon referred to a long-standing agreement signed with the provincial and federal governments in 2007 which promised improved health services to the far north, which, he says, haven't materialized.

The grand chief cited a long term care home for Kashechewan as one example of a commitment that hasn't been fulfilled. 

Faced with a deficit that must be eliminated in short order, Solomon feared a drastic reduction in existing services.

"It's totally, totally unfair," he said. "The $21 million didn't just pop up in one fiscal year — it grew."

Carol Philbin-Jolette with the North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) noted the actual operating deficit is $14 million, which is still significant since Weeneebayko's annual budget is $24 million.

The network's senior advisor for the James Bay Coast said the health authority and government officials need to come up with a hospital improvement plan (HIP) to find ways reduce the deficit.  

"The focus of a HIP is really on creating efficiencies and seeing if there are some cost-savings around that," she said.

Services are not at risk but how they are delivered may have to be altered under a new plan, Philbin-Jolette added. 

Similar plans are typically a year long, she said, but may be extended to two years.

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