Nova Scotia

Nursing a 'very significant priority' for head of health-care recruitment in N.S.

Dr. Kevin Orrell says tackling nursing vacancies is one of his top priorities.

Some full-time nurses want to quit just to get a day off as more than 1,300 nursing jobs go unstaffed

Dr. Kevin Orrell listens during a roundtable discussion with health-care professionals from around Nova Scotia earlier this year. Orrell is the CEO of the newly formed Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment in Nova Scotia. (Robert Short/CBC)

The CEO of Nova Scotia's new Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment said nursing vacancies are one of his top priorities as he settles into the role.

Dr. Kevin Orrell said despite working in the sector for decades, recent meetings with health-care workers about the current working conditions have been enlightening.

"I think the surprise was how emotional the workers themselves feel about trying to do their best in a system that doesn't help them," said Orrell, who travelled with Premier Tim Houston and Health Minister Michelle Thompson as part of their roundtable discussions last month.

Numbers released by Orrell's office show registered nurses account for half of the open vacancies in Nova Scotia, with 1,086 openings.

There are openings for a further 309 positions between licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners with Nova Scotia Health and nursing positions at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

Orrell said the number of openings is staggering, and at a critical level.

"I think nursing is a very, very significant priority. I think the situation with nurses that have entered the system and have been disillusioned enough to say they have to leave earlier in their career than people that had worked as nurses in the past, I think that's a sad event," he said.

Quitting job just to get a day off

The president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, Janet Hazelton, said a key issue for employees is simply taking a day off. Nurses have worked months on end without having any vacation approved because there's no one to replace them.

"I know a young nurse who told me she was going to quit her full-time job and go casual so she can get time off because she didn't get any time off this summer," she said, noting others are doing the same.

Orrell said his office is trying to identify every casual nurse who wants to do the opposite, and offer them contracts to become full-time employees to fill gaps. He said bonuses will be on the table.

"That will be part of the interest of the office — to invite people to come and to incentivize them in one way or another to take on a full-time job, to live in Nova Scotia, to acquire housing and look after their families," he said.

Orrell's comments came as the Liberals tabled a bill Wednesday calling for monthly reports detailing the number of health-care vacancies and new starts.

Liberals say PCs 'promised concrete numbers'

"We have vacancies that have been chronic in the system," said Zach Churchill, who served as health minister in the former Liberal government and is now health critic for the Official Opposition.

He said the Progressive Conservatives "promised concrete numbers" and regular reports would hold them accountable.

When questioned why he didn't do the same when he led the Health Department, he said the Liberals promised to be transparent about patient attachment and created the primary care wait-list as a result.

Houston was quick to dismiss the Liberal bill.

"I'm more interested in making sure that people get access to health care," he said.

Houston said his government will be transparent and if people want the numbers, they can just ask. 

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