With nurses pushed to the brink, Furey government looks to India to help solve health-care crisis

Rahul Girijappan, Central Health's director of critical care and medicine services, will be on the recruitment team. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)
Rahul Girijappan, Central Health's director of critical care and medicine services, will be on the recruitment team. (Heather Gillis/CBC - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey is looking to India — and its registered nurses — to help rescue the province from its health-care crisis.

The government is setting up a recruitment office in the city of Bengaluru, a city of 14 million people, to try and bring internationally trained, registered nurses to Newfoundland and Labrador.

"There's still, you know, an incredible need for nurses here, and if you look at the demographics it's only going to get worse," said Furey at a news conference Thursday morning.

Newfoundland and Labrador is dealing with a major shortage of health-care workers and a system stretched to the limit.

Nurses are struggling with burnout, as more than 600 jobs sit vacant, overtime has been mandated in hospitals and care centres, and emergency rooms are crowded to the point of overcapacity. The nurses' union says 40 per cent of its members — facing 24-hour shifts and high rates of workplace injury and violence — say they'll leave the profession if conditions don't improve.

Emergency rooms in some rural areas have been consistently moved to virtual care or temporarily closed outright — in some cases for months at a time, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association estimates nearly one in four people in the province don't have a family doctor.

"We recognize that there's a work-life balance issue ongoing now with nurses," said Furey. "Part of the solution to that is providing more of them."

The government is sending a team to southern India this month, and will include representatives from the province's College of Registered Nurses, who will oversee the licensing of the Indian nurses.

Furey said they chose the area because the state — Karnataka — has more than 100 nursing schools with training similar to Newfoundland and Labrador's.

The team will meet with officials from those schools and start pitching the province as an immigration destination.

"This is an extremely compatible fit," said Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne. "One of the things that Bengaluru has decided, they have branded — the city itself has branded themselves. They have taken a very deliberate decision to become a centre of excellence in health-care education, including clinical practice."

"We have taken the decision to take full advantage of that," he said.

Heather Gillis/CBC
Heather Gillis/CBC

Immigrants struggle to get licensed

The team is similar to a recruitment office government set up in Warsaw, where an on-the-ground crew helped bring several planeloads of Ukrainian refugees into the province.

But some of those Ukrainian health-care professionals who fled the war and ended up in Newfoundland and Labrador said they're not getting adequate communication or guidance from government officials.

And immigrants from southwestern India have said Newfoundland and Labrador's Byzantine licensing system is a struggle to get through and a barrier to immigration.

The province has said it's working to help health-care professionals among Ukrainian refugees navigate Newfoundland and Labrador's licensing requirements, and in July, the province said it would cover licensing fees for Ukrainians looking to practise in the province and designate someone to help them manoeuvre the system.

Health Minister Tom Osborne has said the provincial government is working with regulatory bodies, including the province's College of Physicians and Surgeons, to be sure the process is accessible without compromising standards of practice.

Last month, the government introduced legislation to make medical licensing more streamlined for doctors trained outside of the province.

Byrne said the team approach, which includes the nurses' college registrar, will also help.

"It is a team approach with the registrar, with the employer, and so they will be going to India with job offers in hand," he said.

Rahul Girijappan, director of critical care and medicine services with Central Health, will also be on the recruitment team. Originally from India, he said his experience immigrating to Newfoundland and Labrador will help — "especially the four years I lived here and the connections still I have there, I can certainly guide them to the appropriate place to choose the right people to come over here."

"Obviously we need to do some interventions to stabilize our system," he said. "I'm really happy that it's happening right now."

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