The Yukon’s vacancy rate in community nursing is starting to decline.
The drop comes after the territorial government introduced $6 million in bonuses for nurses employed by the government. The bonus package is intended to attract and retain nurses. The 2023-24 budget allocates $3.17 million for this initiative.
As of March 20, the community nursing vacancy rate for primary health-care nurses is 36.5 per cent, according to a March 23 email from cabinet communications.
That number is down from the fall when Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the vacancy rate was more than 40 per cent.
In the email, Renée Francoeur, who works in cabinet communications, pointed to the international issue of a lack of health-care workers having an impact on the Yukon’s ability to recruit and keep nurses working in the territory.
“The global health human resource shortage has had impacts on the recruitment and retention efforts of health care providers here in the territory,” reads the email.
“The new package is helping to keep nurses in the territory, who may otherwise have chosen to move to other, higher-paying jurisdictions.”
Since Jan. 3, four new nurses have been hired to support rural Yukon.
“The package is also helping to increase interest in our job postings and helping to create a more enticing compensation package that we are presenting at recruitment fairs and conferences,” Francoeur said.
In an interview, Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said the vacancy rate continues to imply that folks in communities still don’t have proper access to the health care they should have.
“It means that there are not physically bodies in those positions in those communities. It means that the nurses that they do have are probably run fairly ragged and working a lot of overtime,” she said.
White noted the bonuses are well-intended, but the plan didn’t roll out as intended.
In a Feb. 15 release, the Yukon Employees’ Union, which represents nurses employed under the Yukon government, called the delay in disbursing bonus payments a potential violation of workers’ rights, noting the delay left nurses feeling frustrated and undervalued.
Yukon Party MLA for Lake Laberge and health critic Brad Cathers, cited closures and reduced services at rural health centres as symptoms of staff shortages.
“That, of course, means a significant load on those nurses that are working long hours and are trying to fill in while positions in that health centre are vacant,” he said.
Cathers said the Yukon Party has long been pushing for a refreshed human health resources strategy that has a local training component. He said the Yukon government has committed to developing a new strategy.
“It needs to be developed in partnership with local health professionals, and it needs to include both increased training and increased incentives to attract health professionals to the territory,” he said.
“It should include looking at the foreign trained health professionals — making sure that we have in place appropriate assessment, ability and bridging programs to help those who may need additional training to qualify to practise locally.”
In a March 21 email, Kate Erwin, who works in communications for the Health and Social Services department, said the bonus package for registered nurses, nurse practitioners and licensed practical nurses doing work that requires a nurse designation is intended to “help address the wage gap and help with ongoing recruitment and retention challenges we are facing to attract and retain staff to serve Yukon communities.”
According to Erwin, registered nurses or nurse practitioners will get a one-time lump-sum retention bonus of up to $15,000, licensed practical nurses will get up to $8,000, primary health-care nurses in charge working outside of Whitehorse will get up to an additional $20,000 and all primary health nurses working outside of Whitehorse will get up to an additional $10,000.
New registered nurses and nurse practitioners who take on permanent or term positions with a 12-month return of service agreement will get a $7,500 signing bonus and new licensed practical nurses who take on permanent or term positions with a 12-month return of service agreement will get a $4,500 signing bonus.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org