Pandemic bonus for front-line workers at NSHA may not be paid until October

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WATCH: As the first wave of COVID-19 reaches its end in Nova Scotia, many front-line health workers were looking forward to receiving a government-funded pandemic bonus in July. But as Elizabeth McSheffrey reports, some health-care workers won’t get their money until the fall. – Jul 15, 2020

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has told its staff that a one-time bonus for working during the COVID-19 pandemic may not be paid until the fall.

A memo published by the public health agency earlier this month names October as the target date for the $2,000-premium promised to front-line health-care workers under the Essential Health Care Workers Program.

That benefit — billed as a way to thank health workers for their service and sacrifice — was to be paid “after a four month period, beginning March 13,” according to a statement on the day it was first announced by the provincial government.

That led many front-line workers to believe the cash would come this summer after the worst of the first wave had passed.

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“We work so hard to keep our patients, the general public, and our families safe. We were excited to finally hear that we were being recognized by the government with this bonus,” said a licensed practical nurse who works for the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) in the Halifax area, and asked not to be named for fear of repercussions at work.

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“Then weeks later, we hear that bonus would not be given out to those who are eligible until October. It is simply a slap in the face.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, a spokesperson for the Health and Wellness Department said the timing of premium payments is up to individual employers, which also have the final say on which of its staff are eligible.

Carla Adams, a spokesperson for the NSHA, said by email that the public health agency will “do everything (it) can to pay sometime in September,” but it needs time to create an online form for staff applications, and to sort through the thousands of applications that come in.

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On July 8, the provincial government provided more details on eligibility requirements for the Essential Health Care Workers Program, including a controversial requirement that staff be working with patients or residents, on the front lines, “who may be at risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

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Adams said waiting for those details hindered the NSHA’s ability to “get started” on the process of sorting through eligible staff members and submitting information to the Department of Health and Wellness.

“We also need to give employees a few weeks to apply, taking vacation into account, and then we need to match applications with those who actually qualify to create the payment file,” she explained.

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Union leaders representing about 15,000 NSHA employees expected to qualify for the benefit said they’re disappointed by the delay.

The Nova Scotia General Employment Union (NSGEU) and CUPE Nova Scotia recognized how much work must be done for the NSHA to pay out the premium, but wondered why no collaboration with the government took place in advance to make sure staff are paid in a timely fashion.

“People are upset that they have to wait because they figured they were getting it months ago,” said Jason MacLean, NSGEU president.

“We’ve heard now from government that this money is getting paid, so what we need is for the employers to be swift on it. They knew this was coming three months ago.”

Nan McFadgen, president of CUPE Nova Scotia, told Global News that some employers smaller than the NSHA will be paying out the premium earlier, but she doesn’t understand the turnaround time for the “digital cheque” to be issued by the NSHA.

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“I understand there’s a lot of work to be done beforehand to siphon out those who won’t receive it, so that makes sense,” she explained.

“But once they have that information, government has assured us there won’t be delays in the processing of the funds. So I guess it would be a good question for the NSHA, why it would take them two months to process the funds.”

Both McFadgen and MacLean have spoken out against the eligibility restrictions for the bonus, which excludes many managers, physicians, administrators, schedulers and more.

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Other front-line health-care employers contacted by Global News did not reveal when they would be issuing the pandemic premium to their eligible staff.

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By email, the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) said it’s “working through details now, including the timeline for payment of employees.”

Emergency Medical Care Inc., which employs the province’s paramedics, told Global News it is “working diligently to expedite the process and will be communicating to our employees soon.”

Northwood Halifax, the site of the province’s largest outbreak of COVID-19, said it’s still “working with government to clarify eligibility,” and Shannex, another residential care home provider, wrote:

“This funding program is an important recognition for essential workers and we are actively working to move this process along as quickly as possible. Our priority is to keep our team members updated on the process that government has outlined and timing for when they will receive payment.”

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