Lucrative bonuses offered to lure agency nurses to Nunavut during a health staffing crisis has some questioning the fairness to long-term employees.

Neither the Department of Health nor Bayshore Health Agency, who was contracted to recruit nurses, would reveal the amount of the bonuses, although a social media post shared by Nunavummiut health staff indicates that a $20,000 perk would be paid to temporary nurses upon the completion of “an assignment” in Nunavut between July 21 and Aug. 31.

Bill Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union (NEU), said the NEU is “not happy” about the situation and it’s understandable why the issue is “upsetting our (union) member nurses.”

A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed that bonuses were being offered in association with a minimum six-week contract during the summer months.

“This was a recruitment strategy initiated by Bayshore and not at the request of the GN. Bayshore took this step to show their commitment to the GN and Nunavummiut. This bonus is funded through Bayshore Healthcare Agency and not the GN,” reads a statement from the Department of Health. “The agency covers the cost of their recruitment bonuses.”

Asked whether there was any concern over long-term nurses quitting to sign up with the agency to collect the bonus, the department responded: “There is always a risk of indeterminate nurses transitioning to relief status; however, the bonus offered by Bayshore was a temporary and selective offer to meet the GN’s immediate vacancy needs.”

As of July 31, there were 166 indeterminate nurses filling Nunavut’s 340 nursing positions compared to 115 casual nurses. Since July 21, 27 nurses have been recruited by the Bayshore agency.

The department spokesperson, declining to have statements attributed by name, added that the financial incentives were successful, as enough temporary nurses were hired to prevent several Nunavut health centres from closing temporarily due to staff shortages.

The statement from the department also mentioned that options are being explored to update existing compensation packages for indeterminate nurses and negotiations with the NEU are ongoing.

In addition, Health is preparing to launch a multi-year strategy titled Roadmap to Strengthen the Nunavut Nursing Workforce, which would offer methods to attract more nurses beyond “just financial incentives.”

Patrick Callan, manager of corporate communications and public relations with Bayshore HealthCare didn’t answer a question about the bonus figure. He sent the following statement:

“Despite a nationwide shortage of nurses during the global pandemic, Bayshore HealthCare continues to work in partnership with the Government of Nunavut to fill openings in all three regions of Nunavut and together we have successfully averted the closure of several health centres.

“Recruiting and training nurses for Nunavut is one of Bayshore’s top priorities and we will continue to work closely with the Government of Nunavut to ensure the continuity of high-quality community health relief support services.”

Denise Bowen, executive director of the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, said the association’s membership has not raised the issue of recruitment bonuses.

She acknowledged “greater competition between provinces and territories vying for a decreasing nursing workforce across Canada” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. She also noted that some healthcare institutions have begun to offer recruitment bonuses, “making recruitment to Northern nursing positions more difficult.”

The nurses association is working with the Government of Nunavut to streamline and prioritize, where possible, the registration process for nurses, Bowen added.

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