Huron County turns down hospice funding request
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Huron County Council has turned down a request for funding from the Huron Residential Hospice that would have enabled the location to access upper-tier funding for further expansion.
Council made the decision at its Oct. 21 meeting, which was held remotely through Zoom, after receiving a presentation earlier this month. Hospice representatives were seeking $650,000 from the county to assist with the hospice’s $2.7 million capital campaign. If the county had granted the hospice the amount requested, it would have led to an additional $680,000 from the provincial government.
The capital campaign funds would be used for phase two of construction adding two additional beds to the existing four ($1.3 million), paying down debt from phase one of the project ($850,000) and padding the reserves ($550,000).
In his report to council, Treasurer Michael Blumhagen said the county’s $650,000 would have been put towards phase two construction of the project, while the provincial funding would be used to cover most of the debt from phase one.
He also noted that while the provincial government provides the hospice with 50 per cent of operational costs, equating to $105,000 per bed, per year, that funding does not allow for capital expenses.
Blumhagen told council that the two additional beds being proposed could bring in $210,000 more per year, which, when economies of scale are realized, would reduce the per-bed day cost from $738 to $476 because existing staff would be able to cover the two new beds. However, he noted that the additional funding had yet to be approved by the provincial government.
He also told council that if the province were to approve funding for the two new beds, the long-term financial stability of the hospice would be greatly improved, provided costs were kept in line with current levels.
While several councillors expressed concerns with the request when it was first presented, some had softened to the idea at council’s Oct. 21 meeting, saying they planned on voting in favour of the request, despite the county’s current moratorium on grants.
Several councillors insisted their criticism was not an indictment of the hospice but a financial decision for the county, adding they had only heard positive things about the site. Others said they saw it as the continued downloading of public health costs onto counties and municipalities and they didn’t want to support that process.
While some councillors did speak in favour of the request, in the end, council voted against it.
After the decision was made, Huron Residential Hospice Executive Director Willy Van Klooster issued a statement to The Citizen.
“While we are disappointed with the outcome, we respect the process and acknowledge that county councillors have a challenging job. Councillors are faced with making difficult decisions and we understand that not all requests can be fulfilled. We heard from council members consistently how much they value the Huron Hospice residence and understand the value it has for Huron County residents,” Van Klooster said in his statement. “This decision by council does not stop our plans to expand from four to six beds at the hospice so that this end-of-life care can be provided to more people in Huron County. The residence is often at capacity with a waiting list. It may take longer for us to complete the capital campaign before undertaking the phase two addition. We know we can count on support from the residents of Huron County to expand our services to meet their needs.
“Huron Hospice has provided hospice palliative care in the county for over 25 years. We will continue to provide our full range of services while the capital campaign continues.”