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N.B. legislative committee passes motion ‘urging’ government to convene public inquiry over travel nurse contracts


A legislative committee has requested the province of New Brunswick hold a public inquiry into what led to several multi-million dollar contracts for travel nurses to fill gaps in the health-care system.

So far, the province has spent over $173 million in travel nurses between the departments of social development and health, and the two regional health authorities.

During public accounts committee meetings last week, MLAs heard about what led to the signing of those contracts.

Vitalité Health Network’s CEO said 79 of their departments were experiencing critical shortages of staff, patients were receiving 1.3 fewer hours of care each day, 100 beds had already closed, and 50 patients requiring hemodialysis were at risk of not receiving their treatment.

At the very end of the committee meeting last Thursday, former Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said further information was required to move forward on the issue.

“Before we're all done, it's going to be about $340 million, of which about $280 million will be attributed specifically to Vitalité,” she said.

While Shephard acknowledged how difficult the situation has been for Vitalité, and patient and staff safety are “paramount,” she said she’s not “convinced” the problem is being fixed.

“I really think there's cause for more investigation. I really feel that, the trustees need to be spoken to. I believe Canada Health Labs need to be spoken to,” she said. “I really feel with the amount of money we're talking about that we should have a judicial public inquiry so that we can talk to people who do not present themselves here to this committee and, to really get to the very end of what we need to know about all of this.”

The committee has officially asked the province to convene a public inquiry, according to an email to the clerk of the executive council, Cheryl Hansen, on behalf of the committee’s chair.

“Given the magnitude of public funding involved in the travel nurse contracts, I wish to advise you that the Public Accounts committee passed a motion on June 20th urging the government to convene a public inquiry as there are questions that remain unanswered and gaps in information that have not been addressed,” the chair wrote to Hansen.

Health Minister Bruce Fitch said he would want to talk with the minster of justice or the attorney general about a possible public inquiry.

"I look at the amount of effort that’s put in with the AG for public accounts and I'm just wondering again where we are trying to focus on patient outcomes, positive patient things, would it be worthwhile effort?" he said. "I would be interested to understand what it would involve if we went down that road.”

-With files from Avery MacRae

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