Provinces compete to retain, recruit health-care workers
As competition for health-care workers heats up, so too does the bidding.
When the Nova Scotia government announced $10,000 bonuses for public health-care workers this week, New Brunswick was surprised.
"That was a disappointment. I'm not going to say anything different,” said New Brunswick Health Minister Bruce Fitch.
“Not to speak for the premier but I believe he was disappointed as well because it does put a lot of pressure on the other provinces."
The race to retain and recruit staff amid a global shortage of workers is at times pitting provinces against one another.
In an interview with CTV Atlantic's CTV News at Six anchor Todd Battis Thursday, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said he wasn’t trying to poach from another province.
“Other provinces will make their decisions on what they do on retention and recruitment but this is about Nova Scotians,” Houston said.
Nova Scotia is the latest province to offer its health-care workers financial incentives.
On Monday, it announced a $10,000 “thank you” bonus for nurses and another $10,000 if nurses sign a contract to stay on for two years.
The province will also pay a $10,000 incentive to nurses who have left the publicly funded system if they agree to come back and sign a two-year return of service agreement.
A long list of other health-care workers including paramedics, medical radiation technologist, cleaning staff and more will receive a $5,000 retention bonus if they agree to work for two years.
Prince Edward Island previously offered its registered nurses and nurse practitioners a $3,500 retention bonus.
In March 2022, Ontario offered its nurses a $5,000 bonus and in September 2021, Quebec offered up to $18,000 in bonuses to keep nurses on the job.
British Columbia recently brought in a new pay model for doctors that could increase doctor’s annual income by more than $100,000.
“I think there’s both a role for financial and non-financial incentives,” said Ivy Bourgeault, the lead of the Canadian Health Workforce Network.
Bourgeault believes if the intention is to retain workers, that’s important.
“But to be to a certain extent outbidding each other by trying to recruit from other provinces doesn’t make for very good neighbours,” she said, noting it can have knock-on effects for regions and countries unable to offer those incentives.
The president of The Canadian Nurses Association applauds Nova Scotia’s bonuses as a good first step but believes working conditions must also improve.
“If we don’t fix the working environment here, even the ones who come from other countries, if they find out that the working environment or working conditions are not well or decent, they won’t stay,” said Sylvain Brousseau.
In Nova Scotia, some are concerned the bonuses could divide staff and pit workers against one another. Medical Radiation Technologists (MRTs), for instance, will receive a retention bonus of $5,000 while nurses could get up to four times that.
Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT) wrote a letter to Premier Houston on behalf of Nova Scotia’s 600 MRTs. In it, CAMRT thanked the government for including MRTs but pointed out how despite experiencing burnout and understaffing, MRTs were not recognized as nurses were.
“When an initiative by the government is called a ‘thank you bonus,’ and only applies to one profession, MRTs feel that their contributions are less meaningful and unseen,” the letter reads.
The letter goes on to ask the premier to listen to MRTs just as the government has listened to nurses and that any further retention or recognition programs consider no one profession as more essential than the other.
Department of Health spokesperson Khalehla Perrault said there is a nursing shortage, and it’s having a significant impact on how health care is provided.
“A top priority for us is ensuring increased and timely access to primary health care,” she said, pointing out how more nurses in the system means more access for Nova Scotians.
“We’ve made a number of investments to support health-care workers over the last while and we’re pleased to give many of them the $5,000 thank-you bonus,” she said. “We know money isn’t everything, but it’s something, and it’s a way to show our appreciation for their tremendous work and for providing great care to Nova Scotians.”
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