Nova Scotia

Big overtime payouts for nurses raises questions

The head of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union says it may be time to take a close look at overtime after four nurses in Cape Breton made more than $150,000 last year — more than twice a nurse's base salary.

The head of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union says it may be time to take a close look at overtime after four nurses in Cape Breton made more than $150,000 last year — more than twice a nurse's base salary.

"There has to be a reason why there's this much overtime," Janet Hazelton, head of the union, told CBC.

The four registered nurses all work for the Cape Breton District Health Authority. One of them made $206,000 in 2012, the district confirmed.

The base salary is $77,000. For the nurses, that could mean 32 hours of overtime per week, on average.

"Is it because we don't have enough grads? Is it because nurses are not getting their time off and therefore are calling in sick more often because they're worn out? Is there a safety concern?" Hazelton said.

"I think we really need to start talking about this seriously."

Dianne Calvert Simms, CEO of the health authority, said some nurses work a lot of overtime because of staff illness or shortages in some areas. The nurses can refuse overtime, a district spokesman said Wednesday.

Calvert Simms said the district is constantly working to recruit and fill vacancies. She said overtime is monitored closely to ensure patients are safe and workers are not burning out.

Ross Landry, acting minister of health, said the overtime payments do raise questions about patient safety.

"The employees that are delivering the service, are they at their optimum? Are they providing the quality of service? Is the patient care, is it there, that all Nova Scotians are safe?" he said Thursday.

"Those are issues and we've got to look at the policies and procedures. Plus, is there a disproportionate amount of overtime going to a select group of people? I'm not saying that's the case there, but that's the type of question you want to examine."

Landry blames the previous Conservative and Liberal governments for cuts to the health-care system, which he says still has "gaps."

The figures were contained in documents released earlier this week that list employees in all of the province's health districts who made more than $100,000 in 2012.

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