President's Notebook

President's Notebook: Retention Bonuses for Nurses - It's a Good Start

Following a hastily extended invitation from the Premier and the Minister of Health and Wellness to participate in a virtual meeting the evening of Sunday, March 19th, close to 600 nurses, media, union personnel, political types, and curious onlookers logged-in to chat with Premier Houston about the fragility of the nursing profession. 

The list of issues and recommendations that nurses put forward ranged from improving job safety to paying licensing fees for late career nurses. A broad spectrum of concerns were presented, all of which the Nurses’ Union has retained for reference, close to fifty different suggestions provided to Premier Houston, along with some constructive criticism.

The next day, government announced retention bonuses for nurses working in all sectors of care across the province, which I wholeheartedly feel is a step in the right direction.

The one-time payment of $10,000 for fulltime nurses (LPNs, RNs, NPs), with another $10,000 incentive to be paid next year to nurses who commit to staying in the system for another two years, acknowledges the hardships nurses endured long before COVID-19 but made worse by the pandemic. However, I maintain that more must be done to retain nurses, particularly those in mid-career.

The Premier said, “Our nurses do such an amazing job day in and day out. I’m proud to recognize our nurses with these bonuses - because they’ve earned it.”

Over the span of my career as NSNU president, I have repeatedly spoken about recruitment and retention, putting equal value on each. When the exodus of nurses began, I placed the priority on retention with the understanding that those who have stayed at the bedside, working in the public system, should be recognized for their commitment. 

However, money is part of a multi-pronged approach to keeping nurses on the job, in our public healthcare system. We must restore work-life balance, ensure nurses are not working short and are not working an excessive amount of overtime. 

The Nursing Council is currently at the bargaining table for acute care nurses where the teams will also address workplace violence, burnout and moral injury, time off, access to professional development opportunities, 24-hour shifts, staffing ratios, workload, incentives for mid and late career nurses, and scheduling flexibility, which are all factors in retaining nurses.

In addition to these bonuses, it’s vital to achieve wage increases during negotiations, economic adjustments that keep Nova Scotia competitive in the long run. Nurses deserve respect and appropriate renumeration in combination with other retention initiatives. 

In addressing the recruitment portion of the pie, the Province will also pay a $10,000 incentive to nurses who have left the publicly funded system if they agree to come back and sign a two-year return of service agreement. 

It is my firm belief that advocacy from nurse unions, pressure and persistence from our nursing community, influenced government’s decision to introduce the retention bonuses. The conditions attached to the money were determined by government, leaving some nurses ineligible. 

But it will take more than money to fix healthcare and the nursing crisis. That conversation continued late afternoon, March 20th at the Premier’s second Healthcare Summit – a follow-up meeting of the healthcare stakeholders who gathered on January 17th of this year. 

While at that meeting, I again brought up violence in the workplace, a matter of concern for all healthcare workers but particularly for our rural and community nurses who often work in isolation. 

I requested a meeting with the Minister of Justice to take our concerns to the next level, and to discuss and explore local police and RCMP responses to acts of violence against nurses, something we must take very seriously. 

March was an eventful month, filled with highs and some lows, changes for the better in licensure of IEN and Canadian nurses from outside Nova Scotia, and enduring closures of some of our sites due to staffing shortages. The next few months will also be eventful as bargaining efforts ramp up, members navigate the new incentives, and we continue to have conversations about how we can retain nurses. 

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