New Brunswick

Province changes tone about 'urgent' need for volunteers

It may be awhile before the thousands of New Brunswickers who responded to the province's "urgent" call last month for volunteers to help with the COVID-19 pandemic are put to work, it seems.

Only 45 of more than 4,000 citizens put to work so far, registry being kept 'for when and where needs arise'

Volunteers are needed for everything from administering vaccinations and COVID-19 testing to office administration and food preparation, the province has said. (The Canadian Press)

It may be a while before the thousands of New Brunswickers who responded to the province's "urgent" call last month for volunteers to help with the COVID-19 pandemic are put to work.

"A registry is being kept for when and where needs arise," Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an emailed statement Thursday.

"The call for help for volunteers is meant to add flexibility, and prompt those not yet employed to offer their skills and services for casual employment within health-related sectors."

Macfarlane did not respond to a request to clarify whether all the needs that prompted the urgent call for paid and unpaid volunteers to help with the clinical and non-clinical pandemic response are currently being met.

"We need your help," Health Minister Dorothy Shephard had said on Jan. 18, citing increased hospitalizations and staff absences because of the Omicron variant putting pressure on all aspects of the health-care system.

"Over 4,000" people registered on the website, now entitled, "Urgent Call for employment and volunteers – Pandemic Support."

As of Thursday, only 45 members of the public have been "successfully onboarded," said Macfarlane — not "approximately 100," as previously indicated. He offered no explanation for the discrepancy or for the number not being higher.

Of these, 42 are clinical and three are non-clinical.

All of them are getting paid, he said, but he wouldn't say how much, or even give a salary range.

Shephard has said whether someone gets paid will depend on what they'll be doing.

Clinical work includes administering vaccinations and COVID testing, patient services and personal support work.

The non-clinical work includes clerical support, office administration, logistical support, data entry, customer service, and food preparation and delivery.

Chiropractors, dentists and vets eligible for $142.80 per hour

According to a Jan. 19 memo, obtained by CBC News, chiropractors, dentists and veterinarians who have been deemed "able to vaccinate in [regional health authority] clinics, with some additional training provided by the regional Public Health authorities," are "eligible to be paid the general sessional rate (currently $142.80 per hour)."

By comparison, registered nurses who work in acute care in the province earn between $32.54 and $39.57 an hour, according to the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, based on a contract that expired in December 2018, and licensed practical nurses earn between $25.98 and $27.06, based on a contract that expired in June 2019.

The New Brunswick Nurses Union ratified a new collective agreement with the province last December, after members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action. The details have not been released.

"We have confirmed that chiropractors, dentists and veterinarians would be covered under current RHA liability insurance," as long as the RHA approves and endorses them immunizing at their RHA clinics, the memo signed by acting assistant deputy minister Jennifer Elliott states.

The chiropractors, dentists and veterinarians would also have to meet the competencies to administer vaccines, she added.

These professionals, and others "designated as suitable for clinical roles, have had previous health-care training which provides them an advantage to quickly adapt to the needs and requirements of clinical settings and roles," said Macfarlane.

98 letters of offer

The province has also sent out 98 letters of offer, said Macfarlane. He did not specify how many are for clinical versus non-clinical roles, paid or unpaid.

In addition, 93 government employees have been "deployed to support both acute and long-term care sectors of the health system."

Macfarlane did not clarify whether they volunteered over and above their regular work duties or if they were reassigned.

But the volunteer registration website's frequently asked questions page includes one specifically for government employees who are "interested in helping out."

People will continue to be contacted and are being onboarded regularly.- Bruce Macfarlane, Department of Health spokesperson

"If you plan to offer your name during your normal working hours, please make sure you have your supervisor's support," the website states.

The regional health authorities have also redeployed staff from services that were slowed down to support essential services, said Macfarlane.

"We thank the public for the tremendous response to the program, and especially to those who have already been deployed to fill in gaps in health-related sectors at this critical time," he said.

"People will continue to be contacted and are being onboarded regularly."

People who are double vaccinated and boosted and interested in volunteering are asked to complete an online form.

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