The provincial government announced new recruitment and retention measures for healthcare workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Association of Allied Health Professionals on Thursday.
The initiatives include retention bonuses for CUPE and AAHP members, the reimbursement of licensing fees for retired health care professionals who wish to return to work, and double rate overtime to reduce issues in scheduling and the number of extended shifts.
"It doesn't go far enough," said CUPE president Sherry Hillier during a news conference on Thursday. "But we'll continue working on that."
The initiatives are part of a number of measures the government has implemented aimed at recruiting and retaining frontline healthcare workers. During the news conference, Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne said the measures will go a long way in helping recruit healthcare providers.
While Hillier and AAHP president Gordon Piercey say it's a welcome move forward, they agree that more needs to be done to help employees who have been affected by the shortage of healthcare professionals.
"This is a really good first step," said Piercey, "but I really feel like we need to deal with the crises that are right in front of us."
Healthcare professionals are overworked, say union leaders
Although he's glad the initiatives are available to members of the AAHP, Piercey says there are far more challenges that won't be addressed through these measures.
For instance, he says those who want to pursue careers in disciplines such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy have to be trained outside Newfoundland and Labrador. He says more can be done to encourage those people to return to the province when they are done with their training.
"There's always that piece of them being attracted to other areas to work," said Piercey.
Piercey also says the province should prepare for retirements in the field, and provide further support to those who are feeling burnt out.
"[They're] beyond exhausted," said Piercey. "We know that a lot of our members feel like work is consuming their lives."
Hillier says that CUPE has been concerned about the shortage of healthcare workers for years, especially when it comes to the lack of licensed practical nurses. She says those employees have been overworked, and that more must be done to address CUPE members who aren't represented in the government's new measures.
"We started sounding the alarm long before COVID happened," said Hillier. "Our healthcare professionals certainly do not have a work-life balance."