Nfld. & Labrador

This nurse who left Labrador to work in Nova Scotia says N.L.'s new incentives to return aren't enough

Doreen Hawco-Mahoney says money won't make her quality of life better outside the system, and the overtime mandated to address a shortage of available professionals is a major deterrent.

N.L. needs to do more to help achieve work-life balance, says Doreen Hawco-Mahoney

Doreen Hawco-Mahoney worked as a senior nurse in Labrador for 23 years. She says incentives alone from the provincial government aren't enough to attract her back to Labrador. (Bailey White/CBC )

A nurse originally from Happy Valley-Goose Bay now working in Nova Scotia's health-care system says Newfoundland and Labrador's newest incentives for health-care professionals aren't worth the mandated overtime and added stress that would come with them.

Doreen Hawco-Mahoney worked for Labrador-Grenfell Health as a registered nurse for 23 years but made what she said was a difficult decision to move to Nova Scotia in 2019.

While she's proud of her care in her home province, she said it was impossible to find a work-life balance and called herself "a casualty of the system."

"One day I just made the decision, you know, that I need to make some positive change. Because at that time I had a six-year-old child, and my fear was I wouldn't live long enough to see her grow up," Hawco-Mahoney told CBC News from Bridgewater, N.S.

She was quick to look over incentives announced by Health Minister Tom Osborne earlier this month to attract health-care professionals. The incentives, announced under the province's Come Home Year branding, offer return-in-service agreements to eligible physicians, nurses and paramedics who have been living outside the province for at least six months.

The return-in-service agreements vary by profession, with eligible physicians offered $100,000 for a five-year agreement, and primary-care paramedics and registered nurses offered $50,000 for a three-year return-in-service agreement — on top of any other incentive offered by the provincial government.

However, Hawco-Mahoney says the money wouldn't improve her quality of life outside of the system — and the mandated overtime put in place to address a shortage of available professionals in the province is a major deterrent.

She's making less money in Nova Scotia than she would in Labrador, she said, but she feels more empowered and is happier overall working in Nova Scotia.

"I accept that I make less money in Nova Scotia, but I'm not mandated to work. The scheduling enables more flexibility, there's more scheduling options. So you feel more empowered in your workplace.… I feel very valued and respected here," she said.

"I've seen a lot of people come to Labrador, I've seen them be disenfranchised and unhappy."

Hawco-Mahoney says she hopes more can be done to help people inside the system who face mandated overtime and allow for a proper work-life balance.

"A past generation, we lived to work. We're in changing times, the new professionals in the system, they're getting it right. They're working to live."

A man wearing a navy suit with a blue tie speaks with reporters in Confederation Building.
Health Minister Tom Osborne says recruiting more nurses and other health-care professionals would help ease the load on workers currently in the health-care system. (Danny Arensault/CBC)

Hawco-Mahoney shared her concerns directly with Osborne in a letter, which she says the minister responded to by asking what it would take to bring her home to Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We want to see our health professionals stay, obviously, and we do understand that there's work to be done," Osborne told reporters in the House of Assembly on Thursday. "We are listening, we are responding. I can say, you know, that this will not be fixed overnight."

Osborne said the Come Home Year initiatives have attracted some health-care professionals back home, but the provincial government is also working to alleviate the need for mandated overtime by increasing recruitment efforts.

"We need more nurses working side by side with the nurses that are there. We need more health professionals working side by side with the health professionals that are in the system to help lift the load," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Darrell Roberts