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Vitalité CEO says N.B. gave the ‘green light’ to do what it needed to fix staffing crisis

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Vitalité’s CEO is defending its use of travel nurses and the contracts they came with, saying she made the province aware of the “dire” need in the summer of 2022.

Dr. France Desrosiers said she made a presentation to the deputy health minister, beginning in July of 2022, explaining the situation the health network was facing.

She 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.

“We had a meeting, the trustee myself and the deputy minister where he said that we have the green light to go ahead with the mandate to secure all our departments and services,” she said.

When asked if she had made it clear that would mean hiring travel nurses at a cost of million of dollars, she said: “Yes, he was aware.”

She made the comments to reporters during a committee meeting break at the New Brunswick legislature where Vitalité answered MLAs questions on what led to the health network spending $123 million on travel nurses.

At its peak, in September 2022, Vitalité was using 199 travel nurses a day. But Dr. Desrosiers said in 2022-23 they averaged about 100 travel nurses/day.

The CEO told MLAs Vitalité and Horizon collaborated and presented to government nine strategies to help alleviate the need for these agency nurses. Those occurred, according to Dr. Desrosiers, in the fall of 2022. Most of the options they outlined had to do with ways to retain existing nursing staff, like ensuring vacations and bonuses.

“The offers for retention, bonuses, etc. were all rejected, which would have alleviated the need for, for certain contracts for travel nurses,” said Patrick Parent, Vitalité’s assistant CEO.

He said using more travel nurses was one of the options included in the list of nine proposals.

Parent said the retention options would have cost less than the travel nurses.

Dr. Desrosiers clarified it wouldn’t have diminished the need for travel nurses but she believes those options would have alleviated it by about a third.

“We need to understand that with all the travel nurses that are within our network today, we still have 100 beds closed above and beyond that need. So we're still in critical state,” said Parent.

Green Party MLA Megan Mitton said she feels Vitalité has been able to clarify some gaps in what led to these contracts.

“I have a better understanding of what's happened, and I have a better understanding of the role that the Higgs government played in this in, refusing to answer the urgent calls for help that the two health authorities came together on,” she said.

These committee meetings stem from the New Brunswick auditor general’s report looking into the travel nursing contracts signed by Horizon and Vitalité Health Networks, and the departments of social development and health. That report was issued earlier this month.

In total, $173 million was spent on travel nurses. Vitalité has spent the most - $123 million – and is still under contract with one company until 2026.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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