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'It was the 11th hour': Vitalité defends its use of travel nurses costing $123 million

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Vitalité Health Network is the fourth and final body to answer questions at a legislative committee meeting focused on the $173 million spent on travel nursing contracts in New Brunswick.

Chief Executive Officer Dr. France Desrosiers and Board Chair Tom Soucy answered questions from MLAs Thursday morning, specifically on its contracts with several private nurse agencies at a cost of $123 million.

“It was the 11th hour. We were really stuck. We did everything we could to maintain the services,” said Dr. Desrosiers.

She said they needed a high percentage of francophone staff, but more importantly they needed specialized nurses, specifically in dialysis and emergency room specialities, expertise a newly graduated nurse wouldn’t have.

The CEO said patients were experiencing over an hour of care less a day, and there were 79 departments or units in a “critical state.”

Dr. Desrosier was asked how they went about negotiating these contracts.

She said “it was simple” for the most part – an hourly rate.

Except for Canadian Health Labs.

“They came up with a bundle and it was almost impossible to negotiate the teams as well as the length of the contract,” she said.

According to the auditor general’s report, that company charged Vitalité Health $18,043.42 a day (12 hours) for a team of five in-person staff members, including three registered nurses and two licensed practical nurses, as well as two virtual staff members. Broken down, that’s about $306 an hour for each in-person staff member, according to the audit.

New Brunswick registered nurses are paid between $36.41 and $46.13 an hour.

Vitalité spent the most on those CHL contracts - $93 million.

“We did not like the price, let’s agree on that. We did not like the price,” she said. “CHL decided on their price.”

The CEO said “of course” they tried to lower the price, but they weren’t successful and they needed the help as soon as possible.

She said the Department of Health was aware of the need, and approved Vitalité to go over budget to secure the travel nurses.

Lawyers advised not to hand over internal audits

Paul Martin, New Brunswick’s auditor general, said Vitalité violated the Auditor General Act by not handing over three internal audits it had done.

Dr. Desrosiers and Soucy said they offered those internal audits to the auditor general, asking him not to publish them out of fear of litigation.

“As you know there are some issues between Vitalité and the vendor and this could have caused prejudice to Vitalité in their negotiations and there could have been litigation with the vendor,” Soucy said. “With our lawyers we decided not to give those reports, I personally contacted the auditor general…we asked the auditor general if it was possible to offer the documents without him publishing so we would not be impacted negatively in future negotiations.”

But Soucy said the auditor general did not agree to that.

He clarified the board decided not to hand over those audits.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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