By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
WEST COAST – Healthcare in the province is an issue that has been worrying residents since before the pandemic struck.
As a result, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador have begun discussions and have started initiatives in an attempt to improve the situation, not just for patients, but for the front-line health care workers.
On Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 2, Premier Andrew Furey, Community Services Minister Tom Osborne, and Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador (RNUNL) President, Yvette Coffey, held a press conference to discuss initiatives to address challenges for Registered Nurses across the province.
A ‘think tank’ was held in April to discuss the issues working as a Registered Nurse or Nurse Practitioner, and the following incentives come as a result of those discussions:
• Retention Bonuses – A retention bonus is available to RNUNL members (registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs)) for a minimum of a one-year return-in-service commitment. Eligible employees include those who are permanent or temporary employees, and this incentive is available until October 31, 2022;
• Signing Bonuses for Casual Registered Nurses– A signing bonus is available for casual RNs to incentivize them to accept a full-time or part-time position in an ‘area of need’ as defined by the Regional Health Authority with an associated return-in-service of one year minimum. This incentive is available until October 31, 2022;
• Double Rate Overtime for Vacation Period– This measure will support shifts being filled in advance to increase the ability of the Regional Health Authorities to grant annual leave for RNs and NPs until October 31, 2022, and reduce the number of mandated and extended shifts;
• Reimburse Licensing Fees for Retired RNs– The College of Registered Nurses of NL $500 licensing fee and liability insurance will be paid for those who wish to return to work for a designated period and is available until October 31, 2022
• RN Locum Premium– A Registered Nurse Locum Premium Pilot has been established to support work in select locum positions in Labrador-Grenfell Health;
• 24-7 Mental Health Supports– A Mental Health and Addictions Supports group has been assembled to promote mental health and well-being services, as well as develop new solutions providing 24/7 support;
• Child Care– Government has committed to explore childcare options for employees who work non-standard hours; and,
• Bursaries for Third-Year Students in Bachelor of Science in Nursing– Bursaries are available for third-year students in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
Signing bonuses have also been reinstated to attract health professionals.
Premier Furey said he knows that nurses have had a heavy burden, in the last two years especially.
“Beyond that, they are the heart and soul of the healthcare system, and one of the things I think we try to achieve with today’s announcement, not only that we recognized how valuable they are, but we listened, and we heard from them, what the potential solutions were.”
Minister Osborne believes these steps go a long way toward achieving solutions.
“We want to ensure that we provide the climate to ensure that we are able to, not only retain nurses, but recruit nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador, and we understand that there is a recruitment and retention issue globally, every province in Canada has media stories almost every day on this issue, but we need to get better and more focused and more competitive in recruitment and retention.”
RNUNL president, Coffey said they look forward to continued collaboration with the province.
“There are more than 600 vacancies in our province. Burnout is incredibly high among registered nurses and patients in every community are impacted by the nursing shortage. These measures, which are a result of the Nursing Think Tank, will provide some short-term relief. Efforts to create healthier workplaces and address recruitment and retention must continue.”
As it stands, even though steps forward have been made, there are still areas of significant concern outside of recruitment and retention.
Last week, Wreckhouse Press reported on a story about an individual who was unable to get necessary, weekly blood tests to monitor his INR levels after August because he would no longer have a family doctor.
Even if someone has a family doctor, there are still significant wait times in receiving the results; however, Western Health, in response to email inquiries, has stated that these wait times fall within the timeline targets set in June of 2022.
“There are established wait time targets for individuals waiting for Medical (diagnostic) Imaging. For urgent requests, the benchmark is 0-14 days wait time and for non-urgent requests, the benchmark is 0-30 days wait time.
“Western Health’s non urgent wait times for June 2022 are as follows:
• MRI (provided at Western Memorial Regional Hospital), 4-5 week wait time
• CT (provided at Western Memorial Regional Hospital and Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital), 2-3 weeks wait time
“Mammogram diagnostic examinations are provided at Western Memorial Regional Hospital and screening examinations are provided at the Provincial Breast Screening Centre and Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital. Screening mammograms are provided to detect abnormalities for asymptomatic patients while diagnostic mammograms are provided for patients with an identified concern.
“For June 2022, the wait time for mammograms was:
• 3 weeks (Western Memorial Regional Hospital and Sir Thomas Roddick Hospital)
• 2 weeks (Provincial Breast Screening Centre)
• All urgent referrals are completed within 2 weeks.
“All of these wait times fall within benchmark targets as of June 30, 2022. Wait times are also listed on Western Health’s website.
“The turnaround time for radiology reports is calculated monthly utilizing an established A, B, C, D priority classification.
A – Stat and emergency examinations (within 48hrs)
B – Routine inpatient examinations (within 48 hrs)
C – Urgent outpatient and cancer care studies (within 120hrs)
D – Routine outpatient studies (within 168hrs)
“Medical imaging reports are currently finalized within the time frame listed above.
“All radiology reports are provided to the primary care provider who requested the exam. The primary care provider follows up with patients regarding results.
“Individuals who have concerns about their time waiting for diagnostic tests or results should contact their primary care provider or Western Health’s Client Relations Office at 1-833-784-6802.”