Last updated on Nov. 3 at 4:15 p.m.
The deficit of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority has quadrupled in the six years since its creation, according to a report by a Legislative Assembly standing committee.
Members of the Standing Committee on Government Operations, including Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson, presented the report to the Assembly on Friday.
“Part of the promise of amalgamating the six regional
health authorities was to ‘control spending’ while ‘improving care,'” said Johnson in reading from the report. “NTHSSA’s creation was supposed to help use resources more effectively and improve accountability and risk management. Yet now, six years later, NTHSSA’s accumulated deficit has almost quadrupled. It stands at $194 million, up by over $140 million.”
The report found this ballooning deficit is due to a combination of factors, including overtime costs driven by staffing shortages, unfunded or underfunded programs, and underfunded Covid-19-related costs.
The future is looking similarly bleak, with the NWT projected to reach its borrowing cap by 2026-27, all while coping with an ageing population and the need for up-to-date technology.
“Without reforms to achieve better value from existing health system resources now, the GNWT may be forced to reduce healthcare services in the future,” the report reads.
The GNWT does have a Financial Sustainability Plan aimed at reducing the NTHSSA’s deficit to zero. But as the committee writes in their report, “It’s unclear whether the Financial Sustainability Plan is on track to reach its zero-deficit
goal,” due to a combination of factors, including staffing shortages and delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic
According to the committee’s report, solving this financial conundrum starts with more transparent financial reporting and stronger internal controls. On the financial reporting front, the report recommends a detailed analysis of the factors driving the NTHSSA’s deficit, including the difference between budgets and actuals. Stronger financial controls was a recommendation that emerged from the 2020-21 Auditor General’s Report.
“Healthcare should be a number one priority”
If healthcare services are cut to address the deficit, it’s not only patients who will suffer.
“The very last thing that should be considered is reduction in healthcare services,” said Gayla Thunstrom, president of the Union of Northern Workers. “While on the surface it may appear that reducing services might lessen the workload on employees, the opposite is true. Cutting in one place just puts even more pressure in other places and further down the line.”
Thunstrom pointed out that understaffing-driven overtime is already one of the main drivers of the deficit.
“Our workers are also residents and healthcare should be a number one priority for government,” she said.
To address the organization’s growing deficit, NTHSSA spokesperson David Maguire said the GNWT has been part of national conversations about increasing federal health transfers. He said the authority also has “System Sustainability initiatives” to improve efficiency and financial controls. These include improved inventory controls, ensuring NTHSSA is fully reimbursed for services it provides for other departments and jurisdictions, and improving budgeting and internal controls.