New figures released from Nova Scotia Health are raising some eyebrows. It appears nearly half of the 72 employees paid more than $100,000 each year in the Cape Breton District Health Authority aren’t administrators or even doctors.

Two registered nurses each earned more than $200,000 last year, while the top paid RN worked so much overtime her compensation nearly matched that of the health authority’s chief executive officer and exceeded that of the authority’s medical director.

“You’ll always have overtime. Overtime is part of the system,” says health authority spokesperson Lynn Gilbert. “We have been taking steps to reduce it. There are some areas where, due to certain situations, you will have overtime such as critical care and other specialty areas.”

Thirty-five RNs in the health authority each earned more than $100,000 and the figures can include special payouts for retirement, severance or vacations.

But in many, if not most cases, it’s overtime that accounts for the six-figure salaries.

The head of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union says the number of shifts some of her members work to earn those figures is not appropriate. Janet Hazelton also admits too much overtime can affect the performance of nurses as well as the safety of patients.

The Nova Scotia Nurses Union wants health authorities to create larger pools of casual nurses to fill shifts, instead of asking full-time staff to work extra hours at premium pay.

“I can’t imagine anybody working that much to make that much money, but if you say they did, they did,” says Mary Jeffers.

As a retired registered nurse with 35 years of service under her belt, Jeffers knows the impact of fatigue on the quality of bedside care.

“You can’t be tired coming on duty,” she says. “You’ve got to be alert. You’ve got life and death on your hands.”

The Cape Breton District Health Authority says despite the six-figure earnings of many of its RNs, it still managed to reduce last year’s overtime for all employees by more than three quarters of a million dollars. It also hired 100 entry-level nurses in the past two years to help lessen the need for overtime.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Randy MacDonald