The Capital Health District Authority is hiring 85 full-time nurses in an attempt to prevent surgeries from being cancelled because of shortage of specialized nurses.

The majority of the jobs are in critical care areas such emergency, intensive care and the operating room.

The nursing shortage has led to a reduction in surgeries in some emergency rooms, but no operations have been cancelled. Capital Health's chief nursing officer said there's a risk it may come to that.

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Mary Ellen Gurnham said the new program will help curb overtime costs. (CBC)

There are more than 50 vacancies in emergency and operating rooms because older nurses are retiring and new graduates don't have the training to replace them.

"The average age of a nurse in Nova Scotia is about 47 years old. The average age of a nurse in those areas tends to be a little higher," said Mary Ellen Gurnham, Capital Health's chief nursing officer.

Capital Health is now starting a new nursing resource team that will plug the gap.

"We've actually seen that as a way to bring in new graduates and other nurses who would like a variety of experiences," said Gurnham.

Under the new program, graduates will receive several months of on-the-job training needed to work in an operating or recovery room, where there are now shortages.

"Other organizations have tried this model and it's been quite successful."

Capital Health will also train experienced nurses who are interested in specializing in critical care.

The resource team will fill in while other nurses are on leave, such as vacation. Gurnham said they'll also be available to fill maternity leave vacancies.

Gurnham said this plan may also make a dent in Capital Health's overtime costs. In the past, Capital Health has estimated it spent more than $6 million in overtime to nurses.

"Quite frankly, relying on OT is not sustainable strategy and there's a cost in both dollars and human cost," said Gurnham.

The nursing resource team is expected to be in place by the end of October.