Nova Scotia

Guysborough municipality pledges $20K to try to recruit doctors and nurses

The municipality of the District of Guysborough is asking for tax incentives and pledging $10,000 toward signing bonuses for doctors or nurses who agree to work in two community hospitals in response to a nursing shortage that’s reducing emergency room hours and limiting beds.

Canso's Eastern Memorial Hospital closed overnight until further notice due to nursing shortage

There are three open registered nursing positions at both the Guysborough Memorial Hospital and Eastern Memorial Hospital. (CBC)

The municipality of the District of Guysborough is asking for tax incentives and pledging $10,000 toward signing bonuses for doctors or nurses who agree to work in two community hospitals in response to a nursing shortage that's reducing emergency room hours and limiting beds.

The emergency room at the Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso, N.S., has been closed at night since May 12 and will remain so until further notice.

The municipality held an emergency meeting May 10 after learning the hospital would no longer admit patients to the hospital's six inpatient beds due to the lack of nurses working overnight. 

Council unanimously approved putting a total of $20,000 from its operating budget towards recruitment efforts. It's also calling for the federal government to create income tax incentives for doctors and nurses in rural areas similar to what is offered to residents in northern parts of the country. 

"We've got to start thinking outside the box here," Warden Vernon Pitts told CBC. "We see the way our health system is going presently and it's not looking good. If we don't take matters into our own hands soon, I don't know what's going to happen."

Warden Vernon Pitts says council will be lobbying federal and provincial officials for changes. (CBC)

Pitts said the proposed tax incentive would only apply to medical professionals, not everyone in a community. The municipality is bringing the idea to federal and provincial officials, he said. 

For now, Pitts said people are concerned about what will happen in the event of an off-hours emergency in the fishing community. 

"There's a core of people there that expect medical service and that's not too much to ask in this day and age," he said. 

The details of the signing bonuses — for instance, how much each recruit would receive and how long they would be required to stay in the community — have yet to be worked out. 

There are currently three full-time registered nurse positions open at the Canso hospital and three at the Guysborough Memorial Hospital, as well as a nurse practitioner position that relates to casual relief and another that would be in the community 40 per cent of the time. 

A combination of retirements, relocation, illness and recruitment challenges contributed to the current staffing crunch, spokesperson Carla Adams said in an email. 

In March, the health authority informed nurses at both hospitals that their vacation requests were on hold due to staffing issues. 

The health authority already offers financial incentives to registered nurses moving to Guysborough and Canso for full-time positions: $10,000 as a signing bonus and $5,000 for relocation. 

Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton says signing bonuses don't always work unless someone is familiar with and committed to a community.  (Robert Short/CBC)

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, said signing bonuses don't always work unless someone is familiar with and committed to a community. 

"So often what happens is people get these initiatives and they don't like living wherever it is that they've chosen to go and they quit," she said. 

"I think what we need to look at is all these rural areas and is there anyone who wants to go and become a nurse. What kind of support can we give them? Because when you give them support you get a return of service." 

Hazelton was in Canso on Sunday night for a health-care rally and said staff were brought to tears when the hospital closed overnight for the first time since it was built four decades ago. 

She said the current staff were doing whatever they could to try to ensure the 24-hour coverage could continue. Efforts to bring in travel nurses or nurses on overtime from other areas didn't pan out. 

"Those that were off with a bad back, they were coming in, others were helping them do the physical part of their job. They were prepared to go without vacation if it would keep the place open," she said. "They're worried about not having that service when Stanfest comes. They're worried about people in Canso if they have a stroke, they're going to have to go to Antigonish to visit them." 

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About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past 10 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be reached at elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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