By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Public Hospitals Authority has disclosed that the expansion of salaries and benefits of medical personnel is “simply not sustainable at this time”, in the wake of last week’s demonstrations by healthcare unions over such outstanding issues.
In a press conference held Friday, PHA Managing Director Catherine Weech provided a breakdown of the organization’s finances, noting 80 per cent of PHA’s income is currently related to the salaries and benefits of physicians, nurses, and support staff; leaving “very little funding” for the maintenance and renovation of the country’s healthcare facilities.
In the Princess Margaret Hospital, such works include repairing the roof (pictured left) and the air conditioning system in the Critical Care Bock, the renovation of the Corey Newbold Ward, and the installation of new equipment in the Radiology Department.
Last week, the Bahamas Doctors Union (BDU), Consultant Physicians Staff Association (CPSA), and Bahamas Nurses Union (BNU) all held demonstrations over issues ranging from maternity benefits to overtime pay.
“Finances (seem) to be the crux of the matter in this week’s demonstrations,” Mrs Weech said. “In order to shed more light, it is important to restate that the PHA continues to be fiscally challenged.”
According to Mrs Weech, the organization’s approved government funding is $216m and its projected collections from patient revenue is $13m — leaving the Authority $25m short of its projected operating costs for the current fiscal year.
The PHA spends $169m on personal emoluments, which include salaries and related benefits.
“Put more simply, 80 cents of every dollar allocated to the PHA is consigned to the payment of salaries and benefits for physicians, nurses and support staff,” Mrs Weech explained.
“This is compounded by the significant increases in costs related to the procurement of drugs, vaccines and medical and surgical supplies, which accounts for another $32 million in costs, representing 14% of our available funding.
“This leaves very little funding available for the upkeep and indeed the expansion of our public health facilities.
“While we concur with the positions proffered by both the physicians and nurses that the present state of our physical plant is wanting, it is simply not sustainable to continue to expand salaries and benefits whilst neglecting our responsibilities to modernize and repair our health care facilities.”
Mrs Weech noted that while the PHA’s budget has remained “relatively unchanged” over the past several years, annually the organization is required to absorb the additional costs for engaging new physician interns and Senior House Officers.
She added the “general expectation” that all Bahamian graduates from the University of the West Indies be employed by the public health system is one that is “not grounded in reality”.
“We recognise that we are at a crossroad and that the current business model must be changed to ensure a sustainable healthcare system.
On Wednesday, the BDU staged a walk-out at Princess Margaret Hospital. The sources of contention included the PHA’s refusal to honour maternity benefits overtime pay, holiday pay, work duration agreements, licensing and registration protocols and address several longstanding adverse working conditions.
The BDU was supported by BNU President Amancha Williams. The PHA is also facing strike threats from its nurses.
On Thursday, the CPSA members temporarily vacated their posts to stand in solidarity with the BDU and BNU. Earlier this month, CPSA President Dr Locksley Munroe revealed his union was seeking a strike certificate after failing to finalise an industrial agreement with the PHA despite more than two years of negotiations.
Mrs Weech addressed the status of negotiations with each of these organizations on Friday.
Regarding the BDU, she said the PHA is “of the opinion that there are no outstanding matters related to maternity benefits”.
She added the PHA met with the incoming Board on August 24th, and discussed maternity benefits, holiday pay, and length of time given on new contracts with junior doctors.
Mrs Weech also said the PHA extended an invitation to the BDU for a follow-up meeting to discuss any further matters of concern, noting the offer still stands.
She noted the PHA has been negotiating with the CPSA over the past nine months and has “agreed to all of the non-financial articles with that Association”.
The PHA Managing Director added financial terms are currently being negotiated, with the last meeting held on July 6th. According to Mrs Weech, “conflicting schedules” have caused the deferment of the last agreed meeting date.
Regarding the BNU, Mrs Weech confirmed that outstanding matters brought to the PHA by the BNU have been resolved, “save for sick benefits and the implementation of a standardized shift system”.
“Both the PHA and the BNU have agreed to the overall framework of the standardized shift system, including standard hours of work, minimum rest periods, and compensation by way of shift premiums for unpopular hours of work, dating back to 2014.
“The PHA has sought the feedback from the BNU regarding the implementation process for the past four months to no avail,” she said.
“On a more positive note, across the PHA I am happy to report that in recent weeks works have been undertaken in the Labour Ward, and in the Radiology Department which will include the installation of two state-of-the-art digital X-ray machines, and a 64 slice CT Scanner, marking a significant upgrade in diagnostic imaging,” Mrs Weech said.
“Concurrently, at (PMH) we are completing significant repairs to the hospital’s roof, we have almost completed the renovation of the Corey Newbold Ward, and we are continuing to address the issue of the air conditioning system in the Critical Care Block.
“Significant improvements will be undertaken in the Accident & Emergency Department which will result in an expanded footprint and more efficient workflow.
“The Authority is working according to a comprehensive Master plan that will result in the phased upgrading and renovation of all key clinical areas of the hospital over the next few years.”