New Brunswick

Province unveils 10-year nursing strategy to fix nurse shortage

The New Brunswick government aims to add 130 nurses a year over the next 10 years under a strategy unveiled Tuesday to attack the the nursing shortage.

With beds already closing because of nurse shortage, province focuses on education, immigration

New Brunswick's minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, Trevor Holder, and Health Minister Ted Flemming held a news conference Tuesday to unveil the 10-year nurse resource strategy. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The New Brunswick government aims to add 130 nurses a year over the next 10 years under a strategy unveiled Tuesday to attack the nursing shortage.

The strategy focuses on attracting and accommodating internationally trained nurses and providing better education opportunities for students at home.

Health Minister Ted Flemming and Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, held a news conference Tuesday to unveil the plan.  

"We've gotta accept them, we've got to bring into the program and we've got to educate them," Flemming said. "And in addition to that, we need to recruit."

In previous comments about the nursing shortage, Holder has said the province will need 1,300 new nurses over the next 10 years, based on the number of nurses retiring and the number of students who are graduating. 

On Tuesday, Flemming said 21 "action items" in the new nursing strategy will guide government decisions, but no specific changes are planned yet, he said.

"We didn't come here today to say we have every answer, you know, wrapped up in a little box with a bow the next 10 years," he said. "This doesn't end today. This starts today."

Some money allotted

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.

The province has 8,000 nurses, but "we're running out of people here," Flemming said.

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.

If there is a shortage looming out here, [universities] need to take more seats.​​​​- Ted Flemming, health minister

The 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, Flemming said.

"If we don't act now we're going to be in trouble down the road."

Flemming said the four pillars of the plan are to promote the registered nurse profession, strengthen nursing education, recruit internationally educated nurses, and improve nurses' work-life balance.

The province will also consider signing bonuses for nurses willing to work in rural areas for at least three years, as well as a summer employment program in the health sector.

More seats

On the post-secondary education side, the plan says the province must make sure the University of New Brunswick and University of Moncton are able to train more nurses.

Flemming said it's "a simple matter of looking at how many seats the universities are taking, how many more seats they need to take."

"If there is a shortage looming out here, they need to take more seats."

In April, the province cut $8.7 million for nursing programs at the two universities because the money wasn't creating more seats, Flemming said.

"We fund results."

Trevor Holder said the province has been in talks with the two universities.

"The conversation and the relationship has never been better," he said.

Maureen Wallace, president of the Nurses Association of New Brunswick, likes the strategy on paper but says implementation is key. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

Holder referred to the province's plans for a bridging program that will allow licensed practical nurses to get bachelor of nursing degrees and become RNs within two or 2½ years.  

"With the bridging program the money doesn't flow until the first year of studies is completed," Holder said. "So that will prevent in the future the situation where we had a bunch of money being spent and not getting these results."

More immigrant nurses

Flemming said the province is also working to identify countries with nursing programs similar to New Brunswick's standards and help them get accredited. 

He said the province has hired a "navigator" who will try to find a way to streamline the accreditation process.

Maureen Wallace, president of the Nurses Association of New Brunswick, the regulatory organization, said she's optimistic about the plan.

"I have to be hopeful and confident that it may help. I think it has to certainly be more than on paper, we certainly have to implement and implement strongly."

Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, said she's cautiously optimistic about what the strategy will mean for the nursing shortage but said internationally educated nurses are not "the full answer."

"We need to be looking at the youth within our province and making it accessible and affordable for them to consider nursing as a viable career choice," she said.

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