Nova Scotia says 148 nurses return to public health system after $10,000 bonus

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HALIFAX — Bonuses of $10,000 have lured 148 nurses back into Nova Scotia’s public system, the province’s health minister said Thursday.

Michelle Thompson said the nurses who agreed to fill vacant positions include retired, casual and travel nurses. In order to receive the $10,000 bonus, a nurse had to sign contract by March 31 to work in the public system for at least two years.

“We are pleased,” Thompson said of the position uptake. “The majority of them are permanent full-time, but there will be some who are permanent part-time.”

The minister said 34 of the hirees have taken what are considered to be hard-to-fill positions — jobs that have been posted for at least 90 days. One of the recently filled positions had been vacant for 490 days at Queens General Hospital, in Liverpool, N.S., Thompson said.

“There are specialty areas that are hard to recruit to but there are also individual institutions that can be hard to recruit to as well,” she said. “You are constantly chasing the vacancies."

However, Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the incentive program is barely scratching the surface of the need in the system.

“One hundred and 48 of 1,600 vacancies isn’t even coming close,” Churchill said. “We are also hearing that a lot of these folks are actually coming from the system itself, casual workers who are now just coming into full-time employment. So this government is failing to recruit new nurses.”

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said that every nurse that returns to the public system is a “victory," but she called the overall figure from the incentive program a “drop in the bucket."

“We need to address working conditions and of course continue recruitment and retention strategies, but this (incentive) isn’t going to go that far in fixing it,” Chender said.

The bonus incentive program will also see all full-time nurses in long-term care homes and hospitals get a $10,000 bonus, and they will be offered an additional $10,000 bonus if they sign an agreement to continue working full time for two years.

As well, the government will give $5,000 bonuses to other health workers, including paramedics, telehealth staff, respiratory therapists, continuing-care staff, ward clerks, and housekeeping and food service workers.

The Health Department said an estimated 55,000 nurses, health-care workers and other team members will receive retention bonuses within the next few weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2023.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press