WonthaggihospitalMembers of the board of Bass Coast Regional Health, from left, CEO Lea Pope, chairman Geoff Bennett, Mary O’Connor and Sandy Bell were among those in attendance when the organisation handed down is annual report last Wednesday night.

BASS Coast Regional Hospital, the organisation which runs the Wonthaggi hospital and three aged care facilities in the area, has spectacularly failed in its efforts to staunch the bleeding on its balance sheet. At its 104th annual general meeting last Wednesday night the health service posted its worst-ever operating loss of $3.4 million for the 2012-13 financial year, following on from a $1.88 million loss the previous year. It came in the face of a well-publicised focus by the board and its CEO Lea Pope on the organisation’s financial sustainability, involving the commissioning of a Financial Improvement Plan and the introduction of numerous efficiency measures through the year. In presenting details from the health service’s annual report, Ms Pope explained that the deficit was the result of a reduction in inpatient days, a reduction in surgery due to the departure of surgeons, a reduction in dialysis numbers and a slight reduction in emergency presentations. But rising costs, including more than a $1 million more in wages and salaries, played its part too. The hospital treated 19 per cent fewer inpatients during the year, down from 7915 patients to 6418, the total number of bed days was down almost 10 per cent from 17,957 to 16,234 and emergency treatments fell for the first time in five years, down from an historic high of 14,523 in 2011/12 to 13,880 in 2012/13. Births were also down slightly from 205 to 195. Average occupancy rate at the Wonthaggi hospital was down to 92.64 per cent, compared with 95.71 per cent the previous year, while bed occupancy at Griffiths Point Lodge (98%), Kirrak House (98%) and Armitage House (95%) held up reasonably well. Surgical procedures were down from 3137 to 2977 and haemodialysis separations were down from 2540 to 2064. With no new dialysis referrals, the hospital has taken to offering places to kidney function patients wishing to holiday in the area. Both Ms Pope and the health service’s chairman, Jeff Bennett, stressed that the lack of specialist services at the Wonthaggi hospital, which forced the organisation to transfer patients away for treatment, was costing the health service and the community dearly and needed to be addressed. “We have had a focus on efficiency gains in the past year due to the number of deficits in the past few years but as well as seeking appropriate funding levels and efficiency gains, we need to be reviewing our mix of services,” Mr Bennett said. “Far too many people have to be shipped out because we don’t have the facilities or the skills to treat them in their own area.”

Getting worse The health service has, however, been a sink hole for public funds for more than a decade with total losses posted by Bass Coast Regional Health topping $8 million between 2003 and 2012. In fact, the organisation has registered only one surplus in the past 11 years, back in 2007, when it produced a standout result of $570,000. The latest deficit of $3.4 million brings its losses, between 2003 and 2013, to almost $11.5 million. Despite the parlous state of the organisation’s operating position, Ms Pope said, after the meeting, that the debt didn’t accumulated year-on-year and was therefore not a threat to the future of the hospital. “We have been unwavering in our efforts to find efficiencies and also to reduce spending,” Ms Pope said. But she also said that there was “clearly an imbalance in the mix of inpatient care that can be provided” at Wonthaggi and the health service was “looking at how the workforce can be boosted” by the addition of specialist clinicians who would enable more people to be treated locally. “We do, however, face a very challenging future and we need to be prudent.” While service delivery at the hospital dropped off in many areas, including providing 2000 fewer meals on wheels and almost 1500 fewer district nursing contacts; costs went up with $122,000 more spent on maintenance and repairs ($485,479), WorkCover premiums almost doubling to $233,928, electricity costs up $84,000 to $322,794 and employee expenses up by $1 million to $28.9 million. Income from fundraising was down from $535,526 the previous year to $112,065 last financial year.

Reason to smile Numbers treated at the hospital’s public dental service increased however, from 4803 the previous year to 6200 in 2012/13 following the addition of a fourth chair and soon, a fifth. It was a development welcomed by chairman Jeff Bennett who also remarked on the progress being made on the $5.4 million Community Rehabilitation Centre, which is stage one of an ambitious hospital redevelopment project, yet to be funded but estimated in the annual report to cost $202 million over seven stages. Bass Coast Regional Health is an integrated health service providing a range of acute, sub-acute, ancillary medical, aged and ambulatory care services. It operates the 54-bed Wonthaggi hospital which provides a broad range of specialist medical, surgical and obstetric services including orthopaedics, ophthalmology, gynaecology, paediatrics, urology and rehabilitation. It also manages aged residential services at the 30-bed Armitage House Nursing Home, the 30-bed Kirrak House Nursing Home and 29-bed Griffiths Point Lodge Hostel. It also provides a wide range of community and welfare services at Wonthaggi, Inverloch, Grantville and Cowes.