Newfoundland searches for its own solution to nursing shortage

By Peter Jackson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Telegram

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is putting its money where its mouth is in an attempt to solve a long-standing shortage of nurses in the province.

Premier Andrew Furey and Health Minister Tom Osborne were joined by Registered Nurses Union president Yvette Coffey Tuesday, Aug. 2, in announcing everything from retention and signing bonuses to mental-health and childcare supports.

“We all understand that there’s a recruitment and retention issue globally. Every province in Canada, there are media stories almost every day on this issue,” Osborne told reporters. “But we need to get better and more focused and more competitive in recruitment and retention, and the initiatives … that we’re announcing today go a long way in doing that.”

Coffey said the province currently has 615 nurse vacancies, and that a further 900 nurses are eligible to retire.

“We all hear the stories every day — nurses walking away, patients waiting for surgeries and procedures, backlogs in emergency departments,” she said. “Our hope is that this will give hope to our members and to the public.”

The task seems almost insurmountable, given a Statistics Canada survey released in June that suggests 43 per cent of nurses just starting out in their career are thinking of quitting their jobs. Even with those 10 or more years in the field, 31 per cent expressed similar intentions.

“You just can’t knit a nurse or a doctor overnight,” Furey said. “That will take time.”

Mainly money

The initiatives include:

  • a retention bonus is available to unionized nurses and nurse practitioners for a minimum of a one-year return-in-service commitment, available until Oct. 31, 2022;
  • a signing bonus for casual registered nurses to incentivize them to accept a full-time or part-time position in an “area of need” as defined by the regional health authority with an associated return-in-service of one year minimum, also available until Oct. 31, 2022
  • double overtime for vacation period to support shifts being filled in advance to increase the ability of the regional health authorities to grant annual leave for nurses and practitioners until Oct. 31, 2022;
  • reimburse the $500 licensing fees and liability insurance for retired nurses who wish to return to work for a designated period, available until Oct. 31, 2022;
  • a registered nurse locum premium to support work in select locum positions in Labrador-Grenfell Health;
  • 24-7 mental-health supports;
  • a promise to explore childcare options for nurses who work non-standard hours; and
  • bursaries for third-year students in bachelor of science in nursing.

Osborne would not put a dollar figure on the proposals in fairness to other health-care workers with whom the government is still in discussions on similar measures.

“Once we have the full package, which I anticipate will be very soon, we will have a more fulsome number,” he said.

The suite of measures stem from a think tank the government held with nurses in April. Coffey said the idea is to offer some hope for the future, although she admits the measures are only a first step.

“We still have a ways ago,” she said.

She added that the impact of the initiatives will be assessed at the end of the year.

More needed

NDP Interim Leader Jim Dinn said Tuesday he’s encouraged to see the announced financial measures and the continuing dialogue with nurses.

“This is something that should have been addressed a long time ago,” he said.

But Dinn said throwing money at the problem is not going to solve the shortages in the long term.

“In the end, there’s going to have to be something there to address why nurses are leaving a permanent position and moving into casual. Why would they choose that over a permanent position?” he asked.

“In speaking to nurses, it comes down to an inability to achieve a meaningful work-life balance that allows them to look after their patients properly and also to address their own personal needs.”

He said the boosted overtime pay is fine, but it’s not the ultimate solution.

“After awhile, paying people is not what they’re looking for,” he said.

“They want to have some control over their lives so they can have that balance.”