Vitalité and Horizon hire ‘travel nurses’ to help during shortage

Traveling nurses are used by both New Brunswick health systems to help fill the nursing shortage.

They are trained nurses who work for independent agencies. They are sent to different places to work on a temporary basis.

Hiring traveling nurses “undoubtedly” costs more, according to Health Minister Bruce Fitch, but he also said that closing a hospital, closing a wing or not being able to offer certain services costs money .

« It’s an investment in the health care system here in the province of New Brunswick, » Fitch said in a scrum with reporters.

Hospitals in both health networks have faced closures, reduced hours and service disruptions due to staffing shortages.

Health Minister Bruce Fitch said hiring travel nurses is an investment in New Brunswick’s health care system. (Radio Canada)

Fitch said the use of travel nurses is not forever, but « there is a need at this time to ensure existing staff have the support they need to keep facilities open, facilities running and s ensure that when people show up, they will get this service. »

Margaret Melanson, interim president and CEO of Horizon Health Network, said that over the summer, Horizon contacted private agencies for help in emergency departments.

She said it was not a decision taken lightly, but the health network wanted to provide relief to nurses « working daily in very difficult and difficult circumstances ».

Acting CEO and President of Horizon Health Network Margaret Melanson said hiring travel nurses is not a decision they take lightly, but wanted to provide relief to nurses “working daily under very difficult and difficult circumstances”. (Radio Canada)

She said there were less than 10 travel nurses working with Horizon right now.

Brenda Kinney, Horizon’s vice president and chief nursing officer, said traveling nurses have been employed in emergency departments and intensive care units and are currently providing relief at the hospital. Saint John Regional and the Moncton Hospital.

She added that Horizon continues to « aggressively recruit » nurses, which has led to the hiring of 296 registered nurses since early April.

‘Last resort’

Sharon Smyth-Okana, senior vice president of clinical programs and nursing at Vitalité Health Network, said in an emailed statement in response to a CBC News interview request that the use of nurses travel is recent for Vitalité, with the first contract being signed in July 2022.

She said that in September, nurses began providing services at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Center in Moncton.

“It is important to say that hiring itinerant nurses is not a practice advocated by the Network. However, our priority is to ensure the continued delivery of quality care,” said Ms. Smyth-Okana. « We only do this as a last resort and for the shortest period of time possible. »

« Band-Aid Solution »

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said traveling nurses are not the solution to the nursing shortage, but there is « no one size fits all. »

“The saddest thing is that we had been ringing the alarm bells for decades that we were going to be in this situation,” Doucet said.

She doesn’t believe there are enough traveling nurses currently in New Brunswick’s health care system to have the impact the government is hoping for. And she said it can also often be difficult for traveling nurses to come to a new place with little support or guidance in place.

New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet said it’s sad that the nursing shortage has reached the point where the province has to look to outside agencies for staff. (Radio Canada)

Doucet said he was given some numbers on the level of pay offered to traveling nurses to work in the province, depending on the agency and sector.

But traveling nurses are being offered far more per hour than New Brunswick nurses are currently earning, she said in an interview, but she did not get details on benefits provisions, pension, sick days and overtime.

It’s something that could « potentially hurt morale in the workplace, » Doucet said, noting that it could be difficult for nurses to work alongside agency nurses knowing the differences in pay for the same job.

Traveling nurses aren’t the answer, Doucet said, and it’s just another « band-aid solution. »

She said serious investment in retention and recruitment is needed. There also needs to be more accessibility for people who want to enroll in licensed practical nurse or registered nurse programs.


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