Advocates question whether B.C.'s supports for nurses go far enough

B.C. Premier David Eby announces new supports for nurses during a news conference at Langara College in Vancouver on Jan. 9. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Premier David Eby announces new supports for nurses during a news conference at Langara College in Vancouver on Jan. 9. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Longtime B.C. advocates are skeptical of whether the government's newly announced supports to help hire and train more nurses go far enough.

On Monday, Premier David Eby said new measures will support Canadian-trained nurses who want to get back into the workforce, as well as internationally trained nurses looking to practise in B.C.

"Whether a nurse was trained in our province or not, we are ready to welcome those who are ready to care for British Columbians," Eby said during a news conference at Langara College in Vancouver.

Aman Grewal, president of the B.C. Nurses' Union, said the supports "should have been worked on decades ago.

"We, as the union, have been calling out that there is going to be a nursing shortage and nothing was ever done and now we're in that staffing shortage and nursing crisis," Grewal said in an interview.

Besides widespread burnout, Grewal said staffing shortages have meant that nurses are taking on non-nursing duties such as housekeeping and laundry.

She said more support staff are needed to fulfil those duties so nurses can dedicate their time to caring for patients.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The B.C. government said it will offer financial support of up to $4,000 for Canada-trained nurses, to cover applications, assessments and eligible travel costs for current nurses to re-enter the system. There will also be up to $10,000 in bursaries for any additional education they might need to get back to work.

The province said it will cover the application and assessment fees for nurses trained abroad, which cost over $3,700. It also plans to spend $1.3 million to streamline the licensing process.

Eby said the goal is to reduce the registration waiting period from the current three years to between four and nine months.

2,000 nurses could work in 90 days: government

The province said 2,000 nurses are currently in the registration and assessment process and could be working in 90 days because of the new changes.

But Marie Tarrant, a professor in the school of nursing at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, said it's more realistic that the "majority" of nurses will start working in about six months given the backlog of applications.

"There are many steps in this process and a lot of it is just bogged down in bureaucracy. There aren't enough people doing the work of verifying qualifications," she said.

"It really depends on the countries of origin and how easy it is to verify qualifications back to those countries."

Over 5,200 vacant positions: union president

The nurses union said the 2,000 anticipated nurses will help but there'll be a nursing shortage for years to come as there were more than 5,200 unfilled positions as of this past spring, according to Grewal.

"By 2031, we still need 26,000 new nurses," Grewal said.

Clifford Belgica with the B.C. chapter of the Philippine Nurses Association called the government's changes "a start." He said it will take a long time to undo the harm done by years of policies that kept internationally trained nurses on the sidelines.

He said there are nurses who live in B.C. but are travelling to Seattle and other parts of the United States to work.

"It's just bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy that has made it so difficult, unnecessarily," he said.

He said the province needs to support nurses in other ways including by improving work conditions and doing more to recruit nurses abroad.

"We will still call for other things," Belgica said.

"We will still need to think outside the box to get this happening because the need is out there."