The B.C. government is planning to catch up on its long-standing nursing shortage by hiring 1,643 full-time Registered Nurses by the end of March.
Health Minister Terry Lake and B.C. Nurses’ Union president Gayle Duteil announced Tuesday they have reached a staff increase agreement that has been the main obstacle to signing a new contract. The previous deal expired nearly two years ago, and the dispute over staffing was headed for arbitration.
Duteil said the last BCNU contract in 2012 contained a commitment to fill these positions, but more than 1,600 have not been.
“To the nurses working 16-hour shifts today, to the nurses working short in the emergency department and operating rooms across B.C., to community nurses with overwhelming caseloads, this agreement means relief is on the way,” Duteil said.
Lake said the first priority is to offer full-time positions to some of the 7,000 casual nurses working in B.C. Nurses from other provinces would be the next choice, and international recruiting would take place after that.
“I think there will be a pool of nurses who may be moving back with their families to British Columbia, given the economic downturn in Alberta,” Lake said.
By region, the plan targets recruiting of 400 nurses for Fraser Health, 300 for Interior Health, 290 for Island Health, 100 for Northern Health, 235 for Vancouver Coastal Health, 238 for the Provincial Health Authority and 80 for Providence Health Care, which runs St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Fraser Health CEO Michael Marchbank said each nursing position costs the health authority about $100,000 a year, and the new positions can be accommodated from existing budgets.
NDP health critic Judy Darcy questioned whether that many nurses can be hired in little more than two months, after the original 2012 promise to hire more than 2,000 nurses has only resulted in about 500 up to now.
“We know that the long waits for hip replacement, knee replacement, you name it, has been due to shortages, including nursing shortages,” Darcy said. “We’ve been paying incredible overtime. Huge burnout, high injury rates, wait lists, hallway medicine, all of those things are a consequence of not having met this promise.”
Duteil said 16-hour shifts have become “the new normal” for many RNs, and the agreement is a relief. She urged casual nurses in B.C. to contact the union by email immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest in the new positions.