rise of the mercenary nurse

Something doesn’t add up. Canadian nurses are older, under more stress, suffering more injuries and working more overtime than other Canadian…

Something doesn’t add up.

Canadian nurses are older, under more stress, suffering more injuries and working more overtime than other Canadian workers, according to a year-old Statistics Canada report.

According to the study, two thirds of the nurses surveyed by Ottawa reported patient care had deteriorated in the year preceding the study — 2006.

Most said there were not enough nurses to cover the needs of the patients.

According to a June release from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union, the nation’s nurses are logging 18 million hours of overtime, equivalent to 10,000 full-time positions.

“Little is being done to address the nursing shortage crisis,” it said.

In the last month, it was reported that in Nova Scotia, nurses with 13 years seniority can’t get a summer vacation.

Emergency rooms are closing to allow nurses some time off.

Estimates peg the provincial shortage at 1,000 nursing positions.

The BC Children’s Hospital recently cancelled surgeries because of that province’s nursing shortage.

BC nursing schools have increased enrolment by 97 per cent, but that’s not enough to fill the retirements that are expected to happen between now and 2012.

According to recent reports from Alberta, understaffing and overtime continue to hurt health care in the province.

Roughly half the province’s nurses report a deterioration in care and the workplace over the past few years.

In the Yukon, as elsewhere, nurses report stupidly long hours, a requirement to take extra shifts, shortage of staff on wards and a deterioration in patient care.

Some jobs haven’t been filled for years.

And, as in other places, nurses were told their vacations might have to be cancelled this summer.

But Whitehorse General Hospital management stepped up with a solution — it bolstered its depleted nursing ranks by renting nurses from two BC nursing agencies — Select Medical Consulting and Solutions Staffing Inc.

Which raises some interesting questions.

There is a nursing shortage in the public health system across the country — from Nova Scotia to BC/Yukon — yet a private BC firm has enough nurses to dispatch a squad of trained nurses to the Yukon to cover staff vacations this summer.

It will cost the Yukon a couple of dollars more than the top wage and benefits at Whitehorse General.

Hospital CEO Joe MacGillivray wouldn’t say exactly how much more, but stated it was less than the $80-an-hour figure cited by the nurse’s union, the Professional Institute for Public Service of Canada.

“It’s an investment we wanted to make for our staff to ensure vacation time and keep the same level of service (in the summer),” said MacGillivray.

“It’s not our first solution. We’re using the agencies just to fill some of the gaps. We’re still recruiting both permanent and part-time nurses.”

But nurses report the Yukon has a poor record recruiting new staff.

The Yukon is reluctant to offer newcomers full-time work. Instead, they offer people casual employment — a dodge around long-term commitment to expensive benefits.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Yukon is notoriously cheap in what appears to be a highly competitive market.

In fact, its secret weapon in the national recruitment drive is little more than a DVD touting the Yukon lifestyle.

Other jurisdictions are paying cash.

So the Yukon has a staff shortage.

And to cover its shortfall, it is hiring nurses from a private firm — at a premium — to cover its employees’ vacation time.

That is, at a time when there is a national nursing shortage, the Yukon’s public system has simply called a private Canadian firm and hired the nurses it needed at premium prices — albeit with no benefits or long-term commitment.

As we said at the beginning, something doesn’t add up.

Is there a nursing shortage?

Or is there simply a shortage of money to hire full-time nurses for the Yukon’s public health-care system?

Apparently, the Yukon prefers to buy temporary nursing services from private firms — mercenaries, if you will.

This may solve a short-term problem. But in the long term, is the public health service better off? Or worse? (Richard Mostyn)