By James Matthews, Local Initiative Journalism Reporter
Haliburton Highlands Health Services has its eyes set on optimizing health and wellbeing in the county.
And $1-million from the county will go a long way to achieving that goal.
Veronica Nelson, the Haliburton Highlands Health Services’ interim president and CEO, and Melanie Klodt Wong, executive director of the health service foundation, asked Haliburton County council for $1-million Oct. 11 to bolster diagnostic imaging services.
Optimizing diagnostic imaging in Haliburton County’s health care system will cost as much as $4.3-million.
“A little bit of sticker shock,” Klodt Wong. “The cost of this project is significantly more than we have raised in recent years.”
The project’s purse includes construction costs, the prices CT scanner and CT mammography gear, picture archive upgrades, and ultrasound replacement.
The HHHS foundation typically raises $700,000 to $800,00 annually. That covers upgrades and general equipment replacement, Klodt Wong said.
She acknowledged that the diagnostic imagining effort is a large undertaking, but it’s importance to people dwarfs it’s magnitude. She said it’s a need that shouldn’t take many years to meet.
“They need these funds now,” Klodt Wong said.
Hospitals receive limited provincial funding to cover operating expenses and nominal contributions towards minor medical equipment, Klodt Wong said. “Health boards have complex jobs including upholding standards of safe, quality care, overseeing the finances of multi-million-dollar organization and setting the strategic and master plans.”
Funding from the provincial government is limited to operating expenses and “nominal contributions towards minor medical equipment,” she said.
“Foundations were created to take the pressure off hospital services to fundraise for needs not covered by the Ontario government.”
There are four annual fundraisers that support local health care. And there’s individual contributions from people and various groups and events.
Klodt Wong said $6-million has been transferred to HHHS over about 14 years. That money secured such equipment as a portable X-Ray machine, beds, telemetry, support for palliative care, and much more.
“We know there’s a lot of support for health care in the county,” Klodt Wong said. “However, we haven’t seen the influx of donations for health care here as you may see in larger centres.”
Cottagers who live in the area part-time tend to give about 30 per cent what they would donate to health service providers in their primary area of residence.
“We’re at a time when we need to open up avenues again to raise larger sums for bigger objectives,” she said.
Nelson said HHHS is grateful to the foundation and residents for the contributions that has enabled it to provide health care. State-of-the-art equipment is essential for accessible care and future growth in the region.
“We want everyone to benefit and everyone in our county deserves care locally at the minimum standard,” she said. “And that is having access to mammography and CT locally.”
Nelson said one of the first questions heard from people considering moving to Haliburton County is about the quality of health care. And, she said, one of the questions from physicians being courted to work at HHHS is about CT scanning availability.
“Many of them turn their heads and don’t decide to relocate here because we don’t have that digital tool that is really a necessity in primary care and emergency medicine,” Nelson said.
Having local CT scan capability will save $200,000 in transporting patients outside the county for the service.
“And that doesn’t include those patients that are helicoptered out,” she said.
Klodt Wong said the $1-million is essential to recruiting physicians and building the local health care system. And they would need the money in the next year.
Councillor Murray Fearrey, the mayor of Dysart, said council made a commitment when it funded the hospitals in Minden Hills and Haliburton. He said one per cent of the tax base would generate about $200,000. A one per cent commitment over five years would be half of what’s asked.
To get the $1-million would require two per cent over two and half years, he said.
“That seems like not a big increase and, at the same time, something that’s needed for all county taxpayers,” Fearrey said. “And we’re going to save that on the ambulance on the other end.”
Mike Rutter, the county’s CAO, suggested the possibility of funds from reserves purses that could be paid back.
“I can’t say definitively at this point that we can do that,” he said. “But I think that might be a possibility.”
“So the impact would be no greater on the taxpayer,” said Warden Liz Danielsen, the mayor of Algonquin Highlands.
“No change to the taxpayer,” Rutter said. “We would borrow the money and then pay that back to the reserve over another four years after this year.”
“I think we need to do all the math here, including seeing what else is in the budget,” said Coun. Bob Carter, the mayor of Minden Hills. “I know this is an extremely important thing, but we need to see what our tax increase will be. We can say it’s only one per cent or only two per cent. But if it’s on top of five or six or seven (per cent) already, then it gets to be a bit more difficult.”
Carter suggested the HHHS request be worked into the budget process in order to get a clearer picture of finances.
“I really believe we should give them the money as soon as possible,” said Coun. Walt McKechnie, the deputy mayor of Dysart. “This is an important thing for every person who lives in Haliburton County.”
Fearrey said the Haliburton County Public Library has an annual budget of $1.4-million.
“Higher per capita than anywhere in the province that I can find,” Fearrey said. “There are ways of saving money here and being efficient. I think that we can find the two per cent.”
Danielsen agreed, but “I would like to see us give our CAO and director of corporate services an opportunity to have a clearer response for us on how this can be financed and what the impact would be.”
She suggested a decision could be deferred until the next meeting when they have that information from staff.
“If that sounds reasonable to members of council,” Danielsen said. “There’s absolutely no question the level of importance that his decision has to all of us in the county.”