Nfld. & Labrador

Pathologist offer moves N.L. to top pay rates: Williams

A new wage package moves Newfoundland pathologists to the top of the pay heap, Danny Williams says.
Danny Williams: 'If they want to leave Newfoundland and Labrador, it wouldn't be [over] a monetary issue, it would be a career choice issue.' ((CBC))

A new wage package for Newfoundland and Labrador's struggling pathologists moves the province to the top of the heap for compensation, Premier Danny Williams says.

Williams announced the package — which includes a $73,000 annual wage increase for pathologists for this year alone — late Thursday, in response to an emergency meeting held with medical specialists earlier this month.

The raise comes amid testimony at the Cameron inquiry on flawed breast cancer tests, in which workload, understaffing and pay for pathologists have frequently been identified as perennial problems in the province's hospitals.

The offer also includes a 35 per cent raise for oncologists, and will bring that specialty to the same pay level as pathologists.

"I hope we address their needs," Williams told reporters Thursday evening.

"We put together a package that we think at least compensates them appropriately, and makes them very competitive with the rest of the country — that, in fact, if they want to leave Newfoundland and Labrador, it wouldn't be [over] a monetary issue, it would be a career choice issue."

Deal came after 2 pathologists stepped down

Two pathologists tendered their resignations with Eastern Health this spring. A third is on stress leave.

Williams sparked a controversy earlier this month when he linked what he called "inquisitorial methods" at the Cameron inquiry with staffing problems.

However, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association has downplayed the significance of the inquiry, and has said workload is the key reason behind recruitment and retention problems.

That point has been underscored by Dr. Dan Fontaine, one of the two pathologists who has submitted a resignation.

Williams said he will make a personal plea on Friday to the two departing physicians — including Dr. Beverley Carter, the province's only pathologist specializing in breast cancer — to stay.

If the resignations take effect, there will be eight vacancies alone at Eastern Health, the largest health authority in the province.

The $6-million deal, which Williams and Health Minister Ross Wiseman said is a special case and will not be applied to other fields, dramatically changes the pay rates for pathologists, which the NLMA said sat in the basement among Canadian salaries.

Effective May 1, the average remuneration package for a St. John's pathologist jumps to $348,668. The average package for pathologists outside St. John's moves to $364,364.

The starting salary for an Ontario pathologist is about $340,000.

The package includes a base salary of $247,950, a stipend of $60,000, and other elements, including compensation for being on-call, a retention bonus and various benefits.

The package for oncologists has been raised to the same levels.

'A very large pile of money': NLMA

NLMA president Joe Tumilty said Friday that his initial impressions are favourable, but he was reluctant to pass judgment until the association was given the full agreement.

The offer involves "a very large pile of money [which] we're delighted with," Tumilty told CBC News Friday.

"It's a very good increase — no question. [But] the devil is always in the details." 

Wiseman said the package actually exceeds what the NLMA asked for during a meeting two weeks ago. Wiseman said it not only matches the Ontario model that physicians suggested, but includes benefits not found there.

"[This] should send a very strong message that we're serious about our ability to recruit [and] serious about our ability to be competitive and to retain the people that we have," Wiseman said.

"We are trying to stabilize the workforce we have here right now, and attract others into the province, and that should create a much different work environment for them if they choose to stay."