Nova Scotia rolling out incentives to retain, boost training for emergency room nurses

Figures from Nova Scotia Health show some hospital units have up to 80 per cent nurse vacancy rates, including in emergency departments. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
Figures from Nova Scotia Health show some hospital units have up to 80 per cent nurse vacancy rates, including in emergency departments. (Dave Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Health is rolling out a series of new training and retention incentives in an effort to fill nursing vacancies in emergency departments.

The province is planning to launch a new service to make experienced ER nurses available online as a backup to those who are working evening and weekend shifts.

"We can talk about it like a phone-a-friend type of initiative where there will be clinical, seasoned nurses — who may be retired nurses, for instance — who we will connect with nurses 24/7 [who are] needing some kind of support," said Gail Tomblin Murphy, the health authority's vice-president of research, innovation and discovery.

The government is also planning more professional development opportunities for emergency department nurses, grants for nurses with innovative ideas to improve the workplace, and increased training, clinical practice and peer support for new nurses.

"It's a combination of virtual technology enablement, but in addition to that, some extra resources," Tomblin Murphy told CBC Radio's Mainstreet Cape Breton on Friday.

Jean LaRoche/CBC
Jean LaRoche/CBC

Most of the initiatives aren't new, but they're being given trial runs first, before making them more widely available, she said.

"What we are doing is making sure that we are testing and trying them in emergency rooms to scale more broadly, so there is evidence behind this," Tomblin Murphy said.

There are 20 registered nurses across the province who can prescribe medications and there are plans to expand that number, she said.

The province also plans to train registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurse practitioners to work at the full scope of their practice.

For example, Nova Scotia is one of four provinces where nurse practitioners can admit and discharge patients.

"That's pretty important," said Tomblin Murphy.

In addition, annual specialty training programs for 120 nurses will take place in Halifax, Sydney, New Glasgow and Yarmouth, with a goal of increasing that to 200 a year.

Vacancy rates high in some departments

The province has also come up with $150,000 in funding so nurses can apply for grants from $5,000 to $15,000 to develop workplace innovations.

Figures from Nova Scotia Health earlier this month show some hospital units have up to 80 per cent nurse vacancy rates.

The province says the new initiatives, announced Friday, will help attract more nurses to emergency departments across Nova Scotia, while improving working conditions for those already in the system.

But the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which represents nurses at the QEII Hospital in Halifax and some other facilities in the province, says one of the best ways to attract and retain employees is to improve their pay.

Tomblin Murphy agreed, saying there's an opportunity coming up soon to bargain new collective agreements.

"There's incentives, there's ways that we can value providers, but we also have to pay them and we have to pay them well in order to keep them," she said.

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