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N.B. health minister responds to Vitalité's comments on travel nurses, says some MLAs practising 'crass politics'

New Brunswick Health Minister Bruce Fitch is pictured. (Alana Pickrell/CTV News Atlantic) New Brunswick Health Minister Bruce Fitch is pictured. (Alana Pickrell/CTV News Atlantic)
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New Brunswick's health minister said in a statement that the comments made by Vitalité Health Network's CEO, Dr. France Desrosiers, about travel nurse contracts are "designed to deflect from the organization taking responsibility for their actions."

"No one is debating the need to get nurses in place quickly during COVID. However, Vitalité signing a contract that automatically renews and locks the RHA (Regional Health Authority) into inflated prices until 2026 was a decision made by Vitalité management – not by government," Bruce Fitch stated in an email.

He also noted Vitalité paid "significantly more" for travel nurses than Horizon and the Department of Social Development.

Desrosiers was asked about that discrepancy and told the committee it was due to the need for francophone staff, the specialized nature of the nurses they needed, and the urgent timeline.

She also said they tried to negotiate with Canadian Health Labs, but the company wouldn't budge on the price.

Fitch reiterated his call for Vitalité's board and CEO to find "a legal way to break this contract, out of respect for taxpayers."

Patrick Parent, Vitalité’s assistant CEO, told reporters Thursday negotiations are still ongoing regarding the current contract they're under - but that 100 beds remain closed, and they're still in a "critical state" that demands the need for travel nurses to continue filling gaps.

Fitch also claims the committee saw 'crass politics' at play.

"It is a shame that some MLAs chose to use today to attack hard-working public servants. This is crass politics, and I am disappointed in their behaviour," he said.

Vitalité's CEO defends travel nurse contracts

On Thursday, Desrosiers defended Vitalité's 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.

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

In that presentation, 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.

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

Horizon and Vitalité health networks, and the Department of Social Development spent a total of $173 million on these contracts that saw nurses from private agencies travel to New Brunswick to work in hospitals and long-term care homes which were short-staffed.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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