PEI

P.E.I. offers free tuition in hopes of attracting more workers into seniors care

The P.E.I. government will cover tuition fees for Canadians who want to become resident-care workers in the province, a move it hopes will bolster the ranks of health-care workers under strain because there are too few of them.

New program covers tuition for training program for resident-care workers

Former Island students training to become resident care workers practise the skills needed to transfer a patient out of a wheelchair. The province has announced it will pay tuition costs for Canadians who train for the position in P.E.I. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The P.E.I. government will cover tuition fees for Canadians who want to become resident-care workers in the province, a move it hopes will bolster the ranks of health-care workers under strain because there are too few of them.

Health Minister Ernie Hudson announced the new program Wednesday in the provincial legislature.

"Amidst the challenges of their work, our health-care workers face a further challenge due to the need for qualified health-care workers," Hudson told the house.

The funding, offered through SkillsPEI, means Canadian students won't pay any tuition to enrol in the resident-care worker programs at Holland College, College de l'Ile or Marguerite Connolly Training Institute, a cost savings of between $6,102 and $12,979 for students. The programs run from 36 weeks to a year.

Those who access free tuition won't be required to work in P.E.I. once they graduate, but a spokesperson for the Department of Health said the hope was most would start their job search locally.

"Resident-care workers are critically important members of the health-care team for seniors and others who live at our province's nursing homes or community-care facilities," Hudson said.

Health P.E.I. is currently advertising for 23 positions for resident-care workers in government-run facilities, offering wages between $23.64 and $24.65 an hour. There are more jobs listed within the private sector, some offering starting wages between $16-$17 an hour.

In January the P.E.I. Department of Health asked substitute teachers to fill in temporarily as resident-care workers, citing an "urgent need" at private nursing homes struggling to maintain staffing levels under outbreaks of COVID-19.

Health-care workers shouldn't pay for school: Greens

In a government media release, the president of the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees called the new program "an excellent recruitment initiative to support those who want to pursue a rewarding career in providing care for Islanders."

In the legislature, Green Party health critic Michele Beaton urged the province to come up with similar incentives for other health-care professions in need of workers.

"If you want to work in health care, it shouldn't cost you," Beaton said. "It is a no-brainer to do this, to ensure that there [are] zero barriers in order for Island students to start working in a health-care career."

Liberal MLA Robert Henderson urged the province to offer more incentives to encourage students from rural areas to enrol.

"That's the big impediment is how far you have to travel," Henderson said. 

He suggested the province consider paying mileage and allowing smaller class sizes to go ahead in rural areas that won't draw as many students.

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