While nurses in NL leave their full-time jobs, the province uses expensive private agencies

Lauren Byrne’s daughter cried with joy the day her mother came home and announced she was no longer a permanent full-time nurse in rural Newfoundland.

After 13 years of licking wounds, caring for patients, comforting families and missing out on his own life, Byrne has decided to give up his retirement and his lifelong career.

Being a casual employee meant she could be home for Christmas and New Years. Going to birthday parties. And keep his promises.

“It’s a lot, you know, ‘I’m working tonight and tomorrow is the last day of school and I’m going to come home and we’ll take pictures,'” Byrne said in a recent interview.

“And then the next morning comes along and there’s a sick call and there’s no one to fill that seat.”

Nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador are leaving the profession at a rapid rate, with more than 600 vacancies and another 900 nurses in a position to retire. Byrne and another registered nurse are publicly explaining why they think the current system is no longer working.

The shortage of health care workers has left not only the province, but the country, struggling with a dwindling number of nurses, leading governments and health agencies to rely on a much more expensive option: traveling nurses.

But the union that represents nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador says it’s a dangerous precedent to set and will cost taxpayers more in the long run. Its leader continues to call for rapid changes to mitigate the disaster.

This follows a Statistics Canada report released in June on labor demand in the national health system which showed that there are twice as many vacancies in the health and care sectors. assistance this year than two years ago.

Niki Parsons, a longtime nurse in rural Newfoundland, says her profession is in crisis and is speaking out to let the public know the realities of the situation. (NL Registered Nurses Union)

Niki Parsons never dreamed of retiring, but now it’s a regular thought.

But retirement will only be in name, she predicts.

“Four nurses retired two years ago. They retired on a Friday and they’re back to work on Monday,” said Parsons, who works as a registered nurse in rural Newfoundland.

Parsons went through some of the most tumultuous times of the 1990s, when nurses and the government disagreed over staffing and compensation.

But nothing, she says, can compare to what she sees now: a workplace in constant crisis management, where understaffing is the norm.

Annual leave denied, nurses burn out

“It angers me that I can’t come in and provide the level of care that I know my patients want and expect,” Parsons said.

“And it makes me angry that I have nowhere to turn because it’s almost so commonplace now.”

Parsons said it’s not just nurses who are understaffed. She said her hospital is regularly short of porters, licensed practical nurses, personal care workers and secretaries — all crucial jobs that keep the healthcare system afloat.

But working short isn’t possible in an emergency room, says Lauren Byrne.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen. So we have to work over Christmas and New Years. You ask for a day off six months in advance, but there’s no one to take that day,” said said Byrne.

A nurse places an oxygen mask on a patient's face as the woman lies in a hospital bed.
Parsons says she speaks publicly so patients know nurses are doing the best they can with the resources they have. (NL Registered Nurses Union)

A March survey by the provincial government and the nurses’ union found that 90% of registered nurses and nurse practitioners suffer from burnout. Sixteen percent of nurses indicated that they were considering leaving the profession permanently.

Half of all RNs consider quitting their job to become a casual.

Byrne is one of them.

“I still love the people I work with, I still love the job, and I just need it to have more autonomy over my own schedule and my own life,” she said.

“I will work occasionally and set aside money for my own pension, but I can schedule my own shifts and I am not required to work a certain number of shifts.”

“A Slippery Slope”

One of the short-term solutions that is being used is private agencies that pay nurses at a higher rate to travel to hospitals and facilities across the country to meet a need.

According to provincial and national nursing unions, the use of agency or travel nurses is on the rise across Canada. Agency nurses are ultimately paid with public funds, even though they work for private companies.

This is public money for a publicly funded health care system spent on the private sector-Yvette Coffey

CBC News has requested data from the four provincial health authorities on the use of travel nurses this year from January 1 to June 30.

Central Health said it has hired 46 travel nurses, some of whom have completed multiple stints with the health authority. In an email, a spokesperson said $410,516 had been spent so far.

Eastern Health started using private nurses in May and used 14 nurses. The average cost per 12-hour day worked, which varies by field of assignment, is approximately $1,100. The health authority did not provide total costs on time.

In the Labrador-Grenfell Health Region, 46 traveling nurses worked, at a total cost of $1,085,788.

Western Health said it has not used any travel nurses to date. However, a spokesperson later confirmed that the health authority had signed a contract to bring agency nurses into its facilities, but the nurses had yet to start working.

Byrne’s daughter dressed like her mother for Career Day at her school in early 2020. (Submitted by Lauren Byrne)

“This is public money for a publicly funded health care system being spent on the private sector,” said Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses’ Union of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“And it’s a short-term fix. It’s a slippery slope because our members want flexibility. Our members want time off. And they see it. And we have people leaving our system now to join agencies in other provinces.”

A NL nurse overworked leaves her permanent job

Lauren Byrne quit her full-time job as an emergency room nurse in Newfoundland and Labrador due to an overwhelming workload and became casual, something her nursing colleagues are also considering.

Last week, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the SEIU Healthcare union called for a ban on the use of travel agency nurses in that province.

Coffey wants the provincial government to explain what would happen if health authority nurses quit their jobs in the public sector only to later return with a private agency — as was the case recently at a Manitoba hospital, she said. declared.

“Mandatory shifts should be illegal”

Coffey’s pleas are echoed nationally by Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

Silas said nurses across Canada are hanging by a thread and provinces and territories should not bear the brunt of this alone.

“No one will solve this crisis on their own and there will be no silver bullet. It will have to be multifaceted,” Silas said.

“So right now we don’t see much from the federal government, but we’re working with all of the premiers to pressure the federal government to come to the health human resources table.”

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, leads members in a solidarity chant outside the Fredericton Convention Center in February 2020. (Jennifer Sweet/CBC)

Silas said the focus should be on strengthening the public health sector with nurses who are already there.

“You really have to ask nurses to go back to the workforce because you have to understand that a lot of nurses are taking early retirement or have gone to agencies, for example, and then working on a solid recruitment program.

Focus on recruitment and retention

Tom Osborne, Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister, said last week there would be an announcement coming soon to help address the nursing crisis.

He did not go into details.

However, a nursing think tank held in the spring came up with a list of short-term solutions, including incentives for retirees to return, incentives to entice casuals into positions and help with childcare. .

Osborne said he doesn’t want the public sector to depend on travel nurses.

Provincial Health Minister Tom Osborne agrees relying on travel agency nurses should not be the solution to the staffing crisis. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

“I respect and appreciate health authorities who use creative approaches to fill the gaps. However, we need to recruit. We need to retain,” Osborne said.

“We need public servants in this province to fill those roles. And that’s a priority for me.”

But even with the nursing industry on shaky ground, Parsons and Byrne say they would do it again because of their passion for the job.

They hope that with the right relief, incentives and planning will be the medicine he needs.

Learn more about CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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