Waitaki Health outlines its financial predicament

About 180 people attended a meeting at the Waitaki Boys’ High School auditorium on Wednesday to...
About 180 people attended a meeting at the Waitaki Boys’ High School auditorium on Wednesday to discuss Oamaru Hospital and health services in the district. Photo: Daniel Birchfield
Oamaru Hospital’s chief executive says Waitaki District Health Services cannot continue to haemorrhage money and ways to cut costs and become more efficient need to be found quickly.

One of those was a review into the hospital’s kitchen service, a major point of discussion at a meeting on Wednesday called by the Waitaki District Council-controlled company to clarify and answer questions about Oamaru Hospital and health services in the district.

Waitaki District Health Services directors Dr Andrew Wilson and Helen Algar, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, Oamaru Hospital chief executive Ruth Kibble and newly-appointed clinical director Dr Pragati Gautama all fronted to answer questions.

An announcement that health service board chairman Chris Swann was unable to attend was met by a chorus of boos.

The meeting in the Waitaki Boys’ High School auditorium, which attracted about 180 people, was held after the company came under fire from the public for its kitchen review and the way it was communicated.

On November 12, the company announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Presbyterian Support Otago to look into  providing food services for the hospital and the Meals on Wheels service, through Iona Enliven Care Home. No formal agreement has been reached.

Speaking at the meeting, Mrs Kibble said the kitchen service was part of a wider review to address the company’s financial position after it posted a net operating deficit of about $810,000 in the 2017-18 financial year, up from about $600,000 the previous  corresponding year.

The company received $10.5 million in funding from the Southern District Health Board in the 2017-18 financial year.

"At that rate it is not sustainable for us to continue in the way that we are, so we need to look to ourselves and our funders to see what we need to do. We are looking at a range of areas where we could potentially operate in a more efficient way. One of those areas  ...  was the cost of us delivering food services. We have a limited size in-patient and Meals on Wheels base and we don’t have a lot of opportunities to expand that ... "

A review found the kitchen was running at a loss of about $250,000 a year.

If the kitchen service was outsourced, the company would save about $140,000 annually.

While meals may be prepared elsewhere, the town’s Meals on Wheels service would be maintained after concerns were raised at the meeting it may be cut or lost altogether.

Mrs Kibble said the hospital was contracted to provide the service and the fate of the kitchen would have no impact on that.

"Meals on Wheels will still be provided. I am really worried that some of the communication out there in the community has been that we are going to stop Meals on Wheels. That is not our intention."

She said other areas that had put pressure on the company’s bottom line included a "very high dependence" on locums, overtime for nursing staff and managing transfers to Dunedin. Other issues raised at the meeting included emergency department funding, pay parity for hospital nurses, the board’s consultation processes and how directors were elected.

daniel.birchfield@odt.co.nz

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