Want more nurses? Give more graduates permanent jobs, nurses union says
'We've got to be very creative in the ways that we're retaining our graduates here in the province'
If the province wants more nurses working in New Brunswick, it has to create more permanent positions, the president of the nurses union says.
The New Brunswick government unveiled its 10-year nursing strategy on Tuesday, seeking to fix the province's nursing shortage.
The province aims to add 130 nurses a year over the next 10 years. The strategy also focuses on attracting and accommodating internationally trained nurses and providing better education opportunities for students at home.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Flemming said 21 "action items" in the new nursing strategy will guide government decisions.
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Paula Doucet of the New Brunswick Nurses Union says she's spoken with graduates hired in New Brunswick, and they're in casual positions, where they don't have a consistent schedule or paid benefits.
"That is less attractive to new graduates sometimes, verses a permanent position being offered to them," she said in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.
"We've got to be very creative in the ways that we're retaining our graduates here in the province."
John McGarry, the chair of Horizon Health Network's board of governors, said in early June that there are 200 permanent, full- and part-time nursing vacancies at Horizon hospitals across the province.
But Doucet said the number of vacancies and where they're located can frequently change.
"It's a moving target," she said.
Labour Minister Trevor Holder agreed the province needs to offer more full-time positions to nurses.
He said officials with province will be travelling across Canada and the New England area to see where New Brunswick graduates are working and try to bring them back.
"We can't do that if we're just offering them a casual job,. so we have to get serious about offering those full-time positions and we're prepared to do that."
In April, the province cut $8.7 million for nursing programs at the University of New Brunswick and the University of Moncton. The province said it was because the money hadn't created more places for students in the programs.
Holder said universities need to use the money they have to train more nurses, and the health minister is asking the same with regional health authorities with the hiring of more full-time nurses.
"I believe we can work within the dollars that we have to make sure that we hire enough nurses by prioritizing nursing as a career within our system," Holder said.
Strategy not the 'end-all-be-all'
Although Doucet applauded the action items, she said they won't go anywhere unless the province keeps its financial commitment.
"This strategy isn't the end-all-be-all," she said. "We're still going to be looking at different ways to enhance the uptake of students taking nursing. And the ability for them to take it affordably. And to come out of the program with permanent positions here in the province."
Health Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said $2.3 million has been allocated as part of the department's 2019-20 budget to implement some parts of the strategy.
That includes funding for an assessment and bridging program for internationally educated nurses and Canadian-educated nurses wanting to become certified to practise in New Brunswick.
It also includes a "navigator" the province hired to help out-of-country nurses register and navigate the certification process.
Macfarlane said the government committed an additional $500,000 to help licensed practical nurses take a bachelor of nursing program at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.
An aging workforce
The union represents 6,900 registered nurses and nurse practitioners across the province. Doucet said about 41 per cent of them will be eligible to retire in the next five years.
"We know that our workforce is aging and at any given time those nurses can be exiting the system," she said.
Doucet said a lot of emphasis has been put on internationally educated nurses, but training and keeping RNs in New Brunswick is important. Other provinces, including Nova Scotia, face similar nursing shortages, and are working aggressively to attract more nurses from outside the province.
"We need to try and keep our graduates here in New Brunswick, so that is going to take some dollars attached to it," she said.
Shortage closes hospital units
New Brunswick's nursing shortage has caused closures at the Chaleur hospital in Bathurst, Campbellton hospital, six bed closures in Perth-Andover, six bed closures in Saint John and 10 at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre.
Doucet said the nursing shortage has been an issue that has been going on for years and it should've been addressed sooner. Now, said, it's up to stakeholders to keep government accountable to the strategy.
"Everyone needs to work together," she said.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton