Quebec will offer bonuses as high as $18,000 to nurses who choose to work full time in the public health system as the province grapples with an urgent staffing shortage, the premier said Thursday.
François Legault unveiled the plan, saying that an exceptional situation requires exceptional measures, which includes better financial incentives for nurses.
“We need you,” Legault said, speaking directly to nurses. “Quebecers need you.”
Legault described it as a “mini revolution” in the health network following months of pandemic-induced stresses that have contributed to a shortage of 4,300 nurses in the province. Some hospitals have been forced to cancel surgeries while some emergency rooms were operating above capacity last week amid an evolving fourth wave of COVID-19.
Nurses who are working full-time in the public system will receive a one-time bonus of $15,000. Those who are currently working at a part-time capacity will also receive $15,000 if they take on full-time hours.
The government will also offer $12,000 to any retired nurse who chooses to come back full time. In a bid to bring back those who left for the private system, Quebec will give them the same amount to return.
Quebec will offer up to $18,000 to nurses who take on full-time hours in certain parts of the province where the labour shortage is chronic, such as the Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord and Outaouais regions.
“We’re trying to think outside of the box,” Legault said.
The lack of nurses has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has strained resources and put health-care workers on the front lines of the crisis for 18 months. But those in the field say some of the issues facing nurses stem from long ago, such as forced overtime.
The Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), which represents 80,000 health-care workers in the province, had asked for an end to forced overtime prior to the announcement. It stressed the importance of a “balanced life” for nurses.
“For us, it’s quite clear, he missed the boat. We’re extremely disappointed,” Roberto Bomba, an executive officer at the FIQ, told Global News.
“One of the key motives why our health-care professionals are exiting the public health-care system on a daily basis is mandatory overtime. That is the key reason.”
On Thursday, Legault admitted the growing shortage has “aggravated” those problems for nurses currently working in the public network.
The goal is to offer a better work-life balance and improve working conditions too, he added, but in order to do that the province first has to bolster staffing.
Nurses in the public system will also get priority for better work schedules compared with nurses who are hired through private placement agencies, according to Legault.
—with files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez, Raquel Fletcher and The Canadian Press