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Vitalite Health says travel nursing contracts allowed them to 'save lives,' reduce exhaustion and turnover

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Vitalite Health Network’s CEO agrees private agency nursing contracts should be questioned, but says they were a necessary measure that has saved lives.

Those contracts have been scrutinized throughout the week, after a Globe and Mail investigation found New Brunswick health authorities have spent millions on the so-called travel nursing contracts.

The investigation cites, in one of those contracts, Vitalite spent $306/hour for those nurses, far more than the $37 to $47 N.B. nurses are paid.

The N.B. Nurses Union found in a five-month period in 2023, the health authorities spent almost $57 million on these contracts.

But in a statement, Vitalite CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said the health authority was “at a crossroads” by the summer of 2022, with level of care hours per patient at a critical point.

She said over a hundred beds had to be closed.

“This temporary but necessary measure allowed us to save lives, relieve our staff by reducing team exhaustion and turnover,” she said.

Dr. Desrosiers confirmed it will be winter 2026 before Vitalite will be able to completely phase out the need for these contract nurses.

She said recruiting Francophone nurses is far more difficult, but she said they do recognize there are issues with these contracts.

“We believe that the billing level for these services deserves questioning. These costs represent a significant financial burden for our citizens,” she said. “They also create inequality between Network healthcare workers and agency staff.”

In a public accounts committee at the N.B. legislature Thursday, Deputy Minister of Health, Eric Beaulieu, was questioned on the Globe and Mail’s investigation, and if the department knew where the money was going.

Beaulieu said the department knew about the first initial contract, but that the department was informed about the following three contracts after they were already signed.

“Our goal is simply to ban agencies. We can do better and we must do better,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

The federation is calling for federal and provincial auditor generals to step in.

“Their responsibility is to advise the government where public dollars are going and there are all the checks and balances,” Silas said. “They're charging exorbitant numbers and then the amounts are not going to the nurses providing the services, and then we heard yesterday in New Brunswick, the government didn't even know about it. So just that is a wake up call for everyone.”

The N.B. Nurses Union is equally upset, saying some of that money could have been spent on retention bonuses, similar to Nova Scotia’s $10,000 incentive program.

“I've been a nurse for 37 years if you were to ask me, ‘Would you do it again?’ I would do it again, in a heartbeat because nursing is a wonderful profession, there's nothing wrong with the profession right now,” said Maria Richard, vice-president of the NBNU. “It's the working conditions that are the pits.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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