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N.S. government offering nurses $10,000 bonuses to keep them in public health system

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Front-line nurses who are working for publicly-funded employers in Nova Scotia will receive a bonus of up to $10,000, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston announced Monday.

The money is a way to thank nurses while encouraging more of them to keep working in Nova Scotia, the province says.

According to a Monday news release, nurses will be eligible for another $10,000 bonus next year, as long as they stay in the system and sign a two-year “return of service agreement” by the end of March 2024.

“Our nurses do such an amazing job day in and day out. I'm proud to recognize our nurses with these bonuses — because they've earned it," said Houston in the release.

"My message to every nurse in the province is, 'We need you.' As long as you keep working in our province's health-care system, our government will have your back."

The province says it will also pay $10,000 to nurses who have left the public system if they agree to come back and sign a two-year agreement. To qualify for this incentive, they will need to agree to take a publicly-funded position by March 31, 2023.

It’s unclear how many may return.

“It could be up to 1,500, 2,000,” said Michelle Thompson, Nova Scotia’s health minister. “That would be ideal if those folks would come back to us.”

Other health-care workers, including paramedics, telehealth staff, respiratory therapists, continuing care staff, ward clerks, housekeeping and food service staff, among others, will receive bonuses of up to $5,000 in the coming weeks, the province says.

The province said bonuses and incentives will be prorated based on the percentage of a full-time equivalent position that an employee holds and when they were hired. They are being offered outside any negotiated wage agreements.

The response from people in the room — namely those with skin in the game — was positive.

“I think it’s fantastic news,” said Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union. “We’ve been saying for a long time that retaining nurses is every bit as important if not more than recruiting.”

Sandra Mullin, president of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union, says every province in the country is looking for Nova Scotia workers, so government had to come to the table with an enticing offer.

“We’re pretty sure that people are going to be very pleased,” said Mullin.

The provincial NDP says the bonus program is good news, but noted there are still systemic issues to address.

“[Like] long-term wage issues and the other working conditions that nurses and other health professionals have been bringing to the forefront,” said Susan Leblanc, NDP health critic.

The province estimates the bonus program will cost about $350 million in total.

“We’re going to invest in what it takes to fix health care,” Houston said. “[There is] a lot of catching up to be done. We are keeping up.”

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