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More than 2,100 health-care vacancies in N.S., fixing system a ‘massive job’

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A long list of health-care job vacancies in Nova Scotia is top of mind for union leaders representing nurses and paramedics, and a new office established to focus on recruitment and retention is giving them some hope.

According to the Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment and an EHS spokesperson, there are about 2,165 vacancies within the system, though those numbers can change by the day.

The Progressive Conservative government ran its successful summer election campaign primarily on a promise to “fix health care,” which seemingly resonated with Nova Scotians given the majority mandate they gave Tim Houston’s Tories.

The task and the conditions

But doing that will obviously be no small feat, according to the head of the newly-created Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment.

“This is a massive job,” says Dr. Kevin Orrell, the office’s CEO and deputy minister. “This takes years to unravel, to redesign and to plan for permanent improvement over the long-term.

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“I think success would be a reduction in the number of people who are without primary health-care coverage, and that we are able to access the system when we need it most,” Orrell says, “and that the system has capacity to help Nova Scotians stay well and to prevent illness in the long-term.”

Read more: Nova Scotia throne speech pledges reforms to health care system, fixed election date

Orrell says “a great deal” of addressing the state of health care can be done within his office.

But unions representing some of those impacted sectors say time is running out.

“The working conditions of paramedics are deplorable currently, they’re responding obscene distances and taking a long time to get on scene, they’re going call-to-call-to-call,” says Michael Nickerson, the IUOE Local 727 Business Manager, which represents about 1,100 paramedics in the province.

“[Nurses are] very, very tired, discouraged,” says Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union President Janet Hazelton. “There’s not a lot of people getting their time off, their vacation, their ‘me time’ away from their facility.”
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Hazelton says she was “very pleased” to hear of the creation of the new recruitment office, while Nickerson says he’s “cautiously optimistic.”

Orrell, the office’s CEO, says a team of 10 people will work with several government departments to fulfill its mandate.

Read more: Nurses rally in Nova Scotia to demand government fix the broken health-care system

But recruiting and retention is a long-standing challenge.

He says they’ll need to understand concerns and learn why people are either leaving their sector or not joining the system in the first place.

“We’re in competition with the world for health-care professionals,” he says.

“We have to make it a system that people want to come to and that they would be able to fulfill their career expectations in a system that supports them.”

By the numbers

According to Kristen Lipscombe, a spokesperson from the Office of Health Care Professionals Recruitment, there were 172 physician vacancies that Nova Scotia Health was recruiting for, along with 1,086 registered nursing postings, 235 licensed practical nursing vacancies and 12 unfilled nurse practitioner jobs and an estimated 448 continuing care assistance jobs across the province.

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However, there are also 185 job postings for the IWK, including six physician and 62 nursing positions.

Remo Zaccagna, a spokesperson for EHS, the province’s ambulance service, says there are currently 27 permanent paramedic positions to be filled.

“There is another side to that,” Nickerson, the union representative, says. “We have currently, approximately 200 paramedics that are off, currently, due to either short-term disability, long-term disability or [Workers’ Compensation Board] claims.”

Read more: Nova Scotia health-care system under Liberals ‘complete failure’: Tory leader

In a press release, Liberal MLA Zach Churchill, the critic for Health and Wellness and Health Care Professionals Recruitment, said he would table a bill ensuring the recruitment office release monthly figures about “how many vacancies and new starts exist.”

Asked by reporters if his government would release monthly recruitment numbers, Houston said “we’ll do the reporting.”

“I think the reality is Nova Scotians know that we’ve inherited something, I hope Nova Scotians have faith that we’re going to do everything we can to fix it,” Houston said.

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“I’m interested in meaningful, moving forward, in making sure people can access health care,” Houston told reporters. “I’m very concerned with the number of vacancies.”

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