Amid hundreds of vacant positions, N.L. rolls out incentives to retain nurses

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has outlined a suite of short-term incentives to retain nurses, as the province grapples with hundreds of vacancies and even more considering leaving the profession.

Bonuses, enhanced overtime, mental health supports are among measures

Hospitals grabble with staffing crisis, N.L. addresses nursing shortage

1 year ago
Duration 3:00
As Canadian hospitals grabble with a staffing crisis, Newfoundland and Labrador is hoping that signing and retention bonuses, as well as better overtime rates, will ensure nurses stay in the province and on the job.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has outlined a suite of short-term incentives to retain nurses, as the province grapples with hundreds of vacancies and even more considering leaving the profession.

"We know that nurses have put in an incredible heavy lift over the last two years in particular," Premier Andrew Furey told reporters Tuesday.

"But beyond that, they are the heart and soul of the health-care system."

That heavy lift has resulted in a heavy number of nurses pondering a new career path in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A recent survey of 700 local nurses suggested that half of them were considering quitting their permanent positions for casual work.

Nearly one in six were thinking about leaving the profession altogether. 

A think-tank of nurses and government officials was convened in April to look at possible solutions. That work helped spark the measures announced Tuesday.

"We want to ensure that we provide the climate to ensure that we are able to not only retain nurses, but to recruit nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador," Health Minister Tom Osborne said.

Among the new short-term incentives:

  • Retention bonuses available to Registered Nurses' Union N.L. members for a minimum of a one-year commitment. 
  • Signing bonuses for casual registered nurses to accept a full-time or part-time position in an "area of need" for a minimum of one year.
  • "Double-rate overtime" for vacation periods, as part of an effort to bolster the ability to grant annual leave for nurses and reduce the number of mandated and extended shifts.
  • Reimbursement of licensing fees and payment of liability insurance for retired nurses wishing to return to work for a designated period.

Those benefits are all available until Oct. 31.

Additionally, a registered premium pilot project has been established to support work in select locum positions in Labrador-Grenfell Health.

There are also plans for more mental health supports and consideration of child-care options for people who don't work nine to five.

And bursaries are available for third-year students in the bachelor of science in nursing program.

More than 600 current vacancies in system

There are more than 600 current vacancies, and 900 more nurses who will soon be eligible to retire.

Registered Nurses' Union N.L. president Yvette Coffey says the shortage didn't happen overnight and it's not going to be fixed overnight.

"Today, we're here to announce hope — for the registered nurses, the nurse practitioners, and the health-care workers and our patients," Coffey said.

"We all hear the stories every day: nurses walking away, patients waiting for surgeries and procedures, backlogs in emergency departments. Our hope is that this will give hope to our members, and to the public of Newfoundland and Labrador."

The premier agreed, and stressed the importance of collaborative relationships.

"I think to echo Ms. Coffey's sentiment, this provides hope and optimism for the future," Furey said.

"Again, nothing is going to change immediately overnight, but this is a recognition by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and this government [of] the value that nurses bring to the system, to the table, to society."

Nurse Niki Parsons is wearing a mask in the foreground with a patient in a bed in the background.
Niki Parsons, a longtime nurse in rural Newfoundland, says her profession is in crisis, and recently spoke out so the public knows the realities of the situation. (Registered Nurses' Union NL)

The announcement got cautious support from the two provincial opposition parties.

"You know it's good to finally see government sitting down with the groups and having a chat, talk," said Tory health critic Paul Dinn.

"The word 'collaboration' has been thrown around so much in the last number of years.… I believe the premier said this gives some hope that you realize what collaboration is, and start listening to those who are on the front lines."

Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn said, "It seems on the surface that the government is finally starting to listen to the needs of workers and to the people who represent them. And that's also going to deliver better care for those who depend on the doctors and the nurses."

At this point, the province is declining to put a dollar figure on what all these incentives might cost, although those figures are expected to be released soon.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Ariana Kelland