New Brunswick has moved to urgently fill critical care nursing positions amid a predicted surge of COVID-19 cases, offering signing bonuses, extra wages and expenses to those who sign up to help out.
In a memo sent to nurses in the province, the Health Department said its critical care nurse deployment initiative is seeking to fill positions in intensive care units, critical care units and emergency departments throughout the province, as needed.
"Nurses ... who register for [the initiative] must be willing and able to travel to any health-care facility in the province to work in an intensive care unit, critical care unit or emergency department based on the operational needs of the regional health authorities," said the memo sent Saturday.
On Tuesday, Health Department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said the initiative is designed to encourage experienced critical care nurses who have left the health-care system to come back to work.
"Right now, the system is strained with increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations combined with a rising number of health care workers who are absent due to COVID-19," Macfarlane said in an email.
"We feel this new initiative, which was just launched today, will temporarily inject fresh resources to help them through this difficult period."
The incentive program is specifically seeking retired critical care nurses; nurses with critical care experience who aren't currently employed with the regional health authorities; part-time nurses with critical care experience and full-time nurses with critical care experience in units that have seen a reduction in service or closure, the memo stated.
The initiative offers several financial and other incentives to those who are accepted into the program, including:
a one-time payment of $1,000
an hourly wage in accordance with the nurses union's collective agreement
an additional $1,000 premium per 37.5 hours worked, pro-rated
compensation for travel and meal expenses
paid accommodations if required
and child-care services at the deployment location for children under age 12 years, if required.
Nurses union supports initiative
In an email to nurses, New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet acknowledged the strain members are already facing, but encouraged eligible members to sign up if they are interested.
"NBNU understands that the nursing shortage and lack of human resources is frustrating in every unit," Doucet said.
However, she noted, the province is "trying to be ready to support vital critical care nursing services due to the increased cases of COVID-19 and the transmission of the Omicron variant."
On Tuesday, the province's chief epidemiologist warned New Brunswickers to brace for an "intense" few weeks as COVID-19 cases surge.
By the end of January or early February, about 5,500 New Brunswickers are expected to test positive for COVID-19 daily if current trends hold, Mathieu Chalifoux told a technical briefing.
Hospitalizations could reach nearly 220, Chalifoux said.
"We need to assume that everyone we come in contact with could have it," he said.