NL promises long-term care bonuses, new Deer Lake facility as it maps record health spending

A bald, mustachioed man speaks into a microphone.
Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne says recruitment and retention bonuses should help with staffing shortages in the province’s long-term care system. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government will offer bonuses to long-term care workers in an effort to resolve staffing shortages that have left patients stranded in hospitals and separated from loved ones.

At a news conference on Monday, Health Minister Tom Osborne said the incentives are meant to stabilize and build the current workforce.

“These initiatives are needed to recruit and retain staff in long-term care settings, to increase long-term care capacity,” he said.

In exchange for a one-year return in service commitment, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and personal-care assistants already working in long term care can avail of a retention bonus.

The bonus — a maximum of $3,000 depending on the position — will be pro-rated based on hours worked.

The provincial government is also offering a recruitment bonus — a maximum of $8,000 depending on the position — to attract registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and personal-care assistants to work in long-term care, in exchange for a one-year return in service commitment.

The bonuses are in addition to existing incentives, Osborne said. The new provincial health authority will provide details to employees in the coming weeks, according to a government press release.

Osborne said it wasn’t clear how many people would take advantage of the new incentives but the provincial government wasn’t setting a cap.

A cascading effect

According to Judy O’Keefe, Eastern Health’s vice-president of clinical services, there are “many hundred” job vacancies in long-term care across the province, including about 150 vacant positions at Pleasantview Towers, the setting of Monday’s announcement.

“This is a great start. Hopefully this is a way of people finding their place in long-term care and coming to join us and work with us and hopefully staying,” he said.

A person wearing a yellow blazer speaks into a microphone.
Debbie Walsh, Eastern Health’s chief nursing officer, says staff shortages in long-term care affect other parts of the health-care system. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Eastern Health vice-president Debbie Walsh said staff shortages in long-term care had a “cascading effect” leading to congested emergency rooms and canceled surgeries.

“Our patients are in hospital even though they don’t need to be there any longer,” she said.

Earlier this year, Osborne announced the provincial government would conduct a six- to eight-month review of long-term and personal care in Newfoundland and Labrador, partly in response to calls from provincial Seniors’ Advocate Susan Walsh.

A new health-care facility for Deer Lake — opening day TBA

The announcement comes after the release of the 2023 provincial budget, which includes a record $3.9 billion in health-care spending.

Earlier Monday, Premier Andrew Furey said the provincial government will replace aging health-care facilities in the Deer Lake area with a new clinic.

“I have heard concerns about the existing space for three years now. I heard it loud and clear. It’s antiquated. It doesn’t have enough room. It’s not modern. People don’t want to work there. We can’t expand , patients can’t get in,” he said.

The provincial government is looking to lease a new or existing facility of about 30,000 to 35,000 square feet, said Furey. The clinic will include multiple health-care services, including X-rays, mental health care and one of 10 new family-care teams.

“This will be better access for people, better access for providers and make for better working conditions,” he said.

Furey didn’t say if there’s a timeline for the facility, but said the request-for-proposals process should take “a couple of months.”

Monday’s announcement is the latest in a series of promises to create new health-care facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, as the health-care system continues to struggle with recruiting and retaining staff.

In recent months, the provincial government has announced plans to create 10 new family-care teams and two urgent-care centers and build a new hospital in St. John’s.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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