Manor finances short more than $1 million

by Robin Burridge

LITTLE CURRENT—Years of claims that the Manitoulin Centennial Manor is in financial trouble have been validated with an announcement at last week’s Northeast Town council meeting that the manor is operating at a deficit totalling almost $1.2 million, according to the Manor’s 2011 statement of finance.

“This is the biggest problem our council will have to deal with during our term,” stated Northeast Town Mayor Joe Chapman.

Council was informed by Little Current’s Manor board representative, Councillor Al MacNevin, that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) was requesting the repayment of over $600,000, based on claims of overpayment in ministry funding for the years 2006 through 2009. Mr. MacNevin had originally shared with council a notice from the MOHLTC requesting the repayment (the clawing back) of over-funding from 2008 amounting to $190,000 earlier this year, but notices pertaining to the repayment of funding from 2006, 2007 and 2009 were just received earlier this month.

In April, Mr. MacNevin told council the Manor board felt that not all of the 2008 money owing ($190,000) would have to be paid back to the ministry, explaining that the Manor’s auditor was working with the MOHLTC to resolve discrepancies with the allocation of the funding.

Mr. MacNevin added that the Manor board had only been informed of the 2008 clawback (the imputed overpayment) in February by the Manor’s management company, Extendicare, during the board’s budget process and, in fact, the MOHLTC had already begun the clawback process, collecting payments in the amount of roughly $9,000 a month since December of 2011, and would continue to do so for 20 months until the ministry had recouped the $190,000 in funds owed.

As for the MOHLTC’s financial claims for 2006 and 2007, both the board and members of the public were aware of the amounts owed to the ministry as they appeared in the Manor’s annual financial reports. The board, however, insisted in the past that the amounts did not have to be repaid, explaining they had been told this at the time, verbally, by representatives from the MOHLTC.

“Members of the present board, which had sat on the Manor board during 2006 and 2007, insisted that they had been told the amount would not have to be paid back since the money had been spent under provincial direction during a two-year period when the Manor had been run by the government for the purpose of bringing the facility up to standard,” Councillor MacNevin told The Expositor. “Our auditor said that the amounts had to show as a payable on financial reports until the Manor received written confirmation that the 2006 and 2007 amounts did not need to be repaid. The ironic part is that those past/present board members have been saying not to worry and ignoring the problem, but now it’s here and the MOHLTC has requested that the funding be paid back.”

Councillor MacNevin explained to council that the board had called for a meeting with all Island mayors, reeves and councillors to “discuss the impact of recent actions taken by the MOHLTC regarding the financial reconciliations for prior years” and to help strategize a solution.

“As of now, our auditor and Extendicare are working with the MOHLTC trying to clarify the amount owing and come to a resolution, but the ministry is taking forever to respond, as Extendicare has been working on resolving the 2008 funding clawback since last September,” continued Councillor MacNevin, “and that is the issue. The 2008 clawbacks will continue until September 2013 while the 2009 clawback will begin this month and will continue until August of this year. The MOHLTC will begin taking back the funding from the 2006 claim in August 2012, continuing until May 2014, and the 2007 clawback for overpayment will start by October 13, 2013, ending in December of 2014. It is our worry that due to the delay in response, the MOHLTC will continue to recoup funding before the situation has been clarified, leaving us in a vulnerable financial situation without any cashflow or any operation capital.”

“This is huge problem,” declared Mayor Chapman. “Between these clawbacks and the Manor’s 2011 rolling deficit, the facility is almost $1.2 million underwater. This means that the Manor could be forced to close its doors as early as September.”

In addition to funding claims from the MOHLTC that it has already begun to collect, the Manor has also been operating for several years with a rolling deficit.

The news of the MOHLTC’s clawbacks and the Manor’s overall financial deficit infuriated the mayor, leading him to once again publicly demand that Manor board chair Mary-Joe Eckert-Tracy resign. This is the second time the mayor has requested the resignation of Rev. Eckert-Tracy. The first was last year, due to the chair’s hesitation in implementing the next steps identified in the Continuum of Care report—a study previously commissioned by the board, with funding assistance provided by the Northeast Town, to explore ways to make the Manor more self-suffiencent and address the rising needs of the Island’s aging population.

“The chair and members of the board have gone from denying that there is a financial crisis to a financial crisis boiling over in front of our eyes,” yelled the mayor. “The existing chair (Rev. Eckert-Tracy) has to go. She has done too much harm, as have the numerous board members that have denied that there was a financial problem. They should hit the bricks too and if tempers have to flare, so be it. The time for sweet talk is long gone and I am publicly calling for the board chair to step down, effective immediately.”

Mayor Chapman went on to say that the Manor is at a real “crisis point” and that the situation needs the immediate attention of all councils on Manitoulin, together with Ontario government officials.

Councillor Michael Erskine added that the MOHLTC has indicated in the past that the Island already has too many long-term stay beds as it is, and that “if you think that they (the MOHLTC) wouldn’t hesitate to shut the doors on the Manor, you are sorely mistaken.”

“The board has been cultivating a culture of secrecy,” continued the mayor. “They need to stop screwing around with a code of conduct while the Manor is sinking. We know that the facility needs to become more financially viable, that is why the town paid for the Continuum of Care Plan, but this board has been dragging its heels the whole time. Maybe if they hadn’t, we would have had a solid plan in place for the facility before this happened.”

Many councillors expressed similar sentiments, also adding their worry for the residents and staff.

Mayor Chapman concluded the council discussion, requesting that the public attend the Wednesday, May 30 Manor meeting to lend their support and to help draw attention to the problem.

“I hope as many people will attend as possible and that we are able to come up with a solution,” said the mayor.

“I am trying to take a more optimistic outlook on the situation,” commented Councillor MacNevin after the meeting. “We, the municipalities and the board, need to group together with assistance from local politicians and mediate before the MOHLTC recovers any more funding. Through mediation, we can discover if indeed there is money to be repaid, the total amount and determine a financial payback system that is feasible for the Manor.”

Despite his optimism, the councillor added that even if the clawbacks were resolved with the MOHLTC, the Manor still has a major deficit and the sustainability of the Manor needs to be addressed.

When contacted, Rev. Eckert-Tracy declined to comment, simply stating that “all would be revealed” at the upcoming meeting on May 30.

The Expositor also spoke with Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha regarding the Manor’s recent financial turmoil.

“I have spoken with the Manor’s chair, Rev. Eckert-Tracy and I am hoping to do everything I can to help resolve this problem with the MOHLTC,” said Mr. Mantha. “Rev. Eckert-Tracy sent me an email late last week that stated the board had a strategy in the works. She indicated that the board was getting in touch with Sudbury staff of the MOHLTC that may remember the (terms of the) funding of 2006/2007 and can clarify these amounts with Toronto.”

Mr. Mantha stated that he would be on Manitoulin this week for constituency work and plans on meeting with the board chair to further discuss resolving the Manor’s financial problems.

As to claims that the financial problems may lead to long-term care beds leaving Manitoulin, Mr. Mantha assured “that will not happen. The beds need to stay on the Island.”

The special meeting of the Manitoulin Centennial Manor board and councils on Manitoulin will take place on Wednesday, May 30, 7:30 pm at the Manor chapel. Individuals are asked enter the chapel through the northeast side of the building, so as not to disrupt the Manor’s residents.