The Department of Health's dedicated physician recruiter position is vacant, and the province is changing its tune about leading recruitment.
"Both Regional Health Authorities have existing recruitment personnel within their organizations and have also identified additional specific recruitment positions in their new business plans," said department spokesperson Michelle Guenard in an email.
"The dedicated physician recruitment position at the Department of Health has very recently been vacated. That position is currently being posted."
On Tuesday Guenard said the dedicated recruiter works alongside Horizon and Vitalité Health Networks to help them attract doctors and healthcare workers. The recruiter makes sure training opportunities and school seats are available, Guenard said, but the recruitment is a team effort.
"We need to work together with a targeted plan for those areas of the province most in need. Otherwise, regions could be competing with one another, rather than working together to provide health care services to all New Brunswickers," she said in an email Monday.
This is a change from last spring, when Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said the province would take on recruitment after doctors complained about the process. Then-chair of Horizon Health Network spoke out against this move, and was fired two weeks later.
Six months after Shephard said "we've taken recruitment into the Department of Health to lead it," Dr. Jeff Steeves, then-president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said "not much has happened at all."
In the next months, the province revealed it has started a task force to implement a new health plan. Task force co-president Suzanne Johnston said the department is planning on increasing recruitment by partnering with other ministries.
'They are being recruited, but by other provinces'
The taskforce also announced the primary-care provider wait-list has grown from 40,000 to 63,000 since last fall, prompting some healthcare workers to criticize the province for not being more active and involved in the recruitment effort.
"They are being recruited, but by other provinces," said Nurse Practitioners of New Brunswick president Raelyn Lagace of recent graduates.
Lagace said neither the province nor the health authorities are recruiting people with the urgency needed.
"New Brunswick did contact a select few, but there's no promise of a job. They just said, 'Oh, well, okay, we'll contact you next year,'" she told Information Morning Moncton.
"Last year's graduating class, the students themselves contacted the health authorities, and many did not hear for several months from the health authorities before they were contacted with potential jobs."
She said other provinces are offering jobs, incentives, and bonuses to students a year away from graduating.
Dr. Andrew MacLean, a medical resident and health policy analyst in Fredericton, has said he's seen the same thing with physicians. Even the ones contacting the health authority and the department of health and offering their skills are not getting a call back quickly enough, he said.
"We should be trying harder," he said Monday.
MacLean praised the Nova Scotia provincial government for creating a dedicated section of its health department solely to recruit healthcare workers.
Horizon Health Network spokesperson Kris McDavid confirmed the authority has dedicated recruiters, four of which work exclusively to recruit doctors, with another team dedicated to recruiting nurses.
Gains and losses at the health authority
Horizon's annual report shows New Brunswick has gained 72 physicians, recruiting 99 this year compared to 77 last year.
In a news release, the authority said recruitment efforts in the Sackville area have most recently resulted in hiring four graduate nurses and three patient care attendants.
And for the summer, Horizon has hired two LPNs who are currently in a bridging course to become RNs, two nursing students, and one patient care attendant.
Staffing challenges have resulted in reduction of hours at the Sackville Memorial Hospital. The goal is to recruit and retain enough people to restore the 24/7 Emergency Department coverage, a media release aid.
Meanwhile, one of the two geriatricians at Vitalité Health Network has left. The health authority would not identify the doctor but confirmed they left Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Center.
There are 13 geriatricians in the whole province according to the New Brunswick College of Physicians website.