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Nurses awarded $10K retention bonuses from province, other health workers to receive $5K

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Nurses who worked full-time in the past year are getting a $10,000 bonus for remaining on the job, Nova Scotia’s premiere announced Monday.

“How can we show you, how can we show nurses and health care professionals the same level of commitment that you show us?” Premier Tim Houston said at a news conference at Dartmouth General Hospital. “How can we say thank you? How can we recognize your sacrifice?”

Nurses who promise to stay working until 2026 will receive a $10,000 bonus next year.

The bonuses are part of an effort to retain nurses, most of whom have been forced to work overtime, forgo breaks and vacations because of short staffing.

“Today we’re saying thank you to nurses employed by our publicly funded health-care system by paying each of you a $10,000 retention bonus, no strings attached,” he said.

Returning nurses rewarded

“And to each nurse who commits to staying with us on this health care journey for another two years, we’re going to provide an additional $10,000 bonus so that means potentially $20,000 for nurses, for those who are here with us and who are staying with us.”

One of those bonuses is also on offer for nurses who return full time to the public system, including nurses who travel or have retired or those who work on a casual or part-time basis.

“In a time of rising costs of living I hope that this money will make a difference to a lot of families around the province,” said Houston.

Premier Houston stands at a podium
Premier Houston said the bonuses are a way of saying thank you to nurses who stayed on the job despite difficult working conditions. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

The province is also offering a one-time, $5,000 bonus to people who work in hospitals or other care facilities, including ward aids, continuing care assistants, clinical assistants, telehealth workers, clerical, office and housekeeping staff.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness estimated the bonuses would cost $110 million for nurses and $220 million for all other health-care workers. Another $24 million could be spent on nurses returning work, but the total cost to the province will depend on how many workers decide to participate.

Emergency department nurse Sherry-Lynn Jessome Campbell was at the announcement and said she was glad to hear about the bonus.

“It’s money,” Jessome Campbell said. “It’s needed. I hope that it will bring back some of our very qualified nurses who have gone casual and then traveling.”

“We’re struggling,” she said. “I have left my shift and the same people have been there when I came back in the morning. They may be 80 years old. It’s not a way for people to be treated.”

Campbell, a nurse for 34 years, can retire with a full pension in one year. She has plans to take her retirement but continues to work as a travel nurse when and where she wants.

High cost of living

“I don’t know if $20,000 is going to keep me,” she said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s needed.”

“I’ve seen nurses leave this province because they couldn’t afford to be a single nurse … with the cost of living and our salary.”

A woman with short blonde hair wearing a black and white jacket with a purple sweater and silver necklace stands in front of a large flat screen TV and a Nova Scotia flag.
Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton says the bonuses are a welcome recognition of their work. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton said the bonuses should help keep some nurses from leaving their full-time jobs.

“I think it’s fantastic news,” said Hazelton. “Recognizing nurses who have been nursing for the last two to three years in a very difficult situation is very welcome and I’m sure the nurses will be very much appreciated.”

Health Minister Michelle Thompson, a former nurse, said she hoped it would not only retain nurses but would lure back those who had reduced their hours or are now working outside the public system.

“We really do want to incent people to come back, so we’re open to those conversations,” she said. “So it could be up to 1,500, 2,000 that would be ideal if those folks would come back to us.”

Asked if that might be an optimistic figure, Hazelton could not say.

Other health-care workers are rewarded, too

“I have no idea, said Hazelton. “I don’t know how many [are] out there that wants to come back.”

“I don’t know how many out there may go from part time to full time because if they go full time, the bonus is bigger.”

The president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, Sandra Mullen, was happy to hear non-nurses would receive a bonus, albeit a smaller, one-time payment.

“I believe this goes a long way to show the appreciation to the health-care workers, not just our nurses,” said Mullen. “We represent 18,000 folks who work in health care here in Nova Scotia including some nurses.”

“That he captured a thank you to them is huge.”

Online meetings with premieres

The announcement comes a day after Houston and Thompson held a virtual town hall with nurses from across the province.

For an hour, nurses shared concerns and suggestions about how to address problems with workload, paperwork that may not be necessary, the need for mentorship and compensation that has not kept pace with the cost of living.

A community-based VON nurse said it feels like her branch of nursing, which treats patients in their homes, is an afterthought.

A woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair and glasses and silver earrings and a silver necklace wears a black jacket.  She is standing next to a Nova Scotia flag.
Health Minister Michelle Thompson, a former nurse, said she hoped it would not only retain nurses but would lure back those who had reduced their hours or are now working outside the public system. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

VON nurses are routinely asked to work four hours of overtime a day and are often seen patients who are acutely ill but have been discharged from the hospital as soon as possible.

“We’re exhausted,” she said. “We have zero work-life balance.”

A nurse practitioner called on the premiere to address Nova Scotia student loans.

Given the tax rate in the province and the demand for skilled nurses across the country, she argued that student loan payments are a disincentive to stay in Nova Scotia.

Houston said he received the message about compensation, but noted that collective bargaining with unions continued and he would not interfere with the process. He is committed to removing paperwork and unnecessary red tape.