June 14, 2024

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Corner Brook nurses forced to work nearly double time after travel nurses’ contract ended

3 min read

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Registered Nurses’ Union says some of its members were forced to work for 21 hours straight this week, after a contract with a private company came to an end.

A one-year contract with Canadian Health Labs to supply six travel nurses for work at Western Memorial Regional Hospital began Feb. 27, 2023, and ended this past week.

Yvette Coffey, president of the nurses’ union, says provincial health authority Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services had no plan to cover those nursing shifts, which left the province’s nurses mandated to work 21 out of 24 hours.

“That was a surprise,” Coffey said. “And worrisome, troubling for us.”

In a statement sent after this story was originally published, N.L. Health Services said the lengthy shifts were due to a scheduling error.   

“There were two agency nurses booked to work the evening shift February 27 due to a scheduling error, given the contract ended at midnight,” N.L. Health Services said. “At that time two N.L. Health Services staff nurses were recalled to work at midnight, after working the day shift until 8 p.m.”

“We apologize to the nurses who worked longer than their scheduled shift,” the statement said. 

The health authority also said the contract between N.L. Health Services’s Western zone and Canadian Health Labs will not be renewed. They wrote that recruitment and retention efforts for the region are continuing.

A concrete and bricks building bears the words Western Memorial Regional Hospital in blue lettering.
Six travel nurses clewed up a year of work at Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook on Tuesday. No one was on deck to replace them. (Geoff Bartlett/CBC)

The situation comes just over a week after a Globe and Mail article revealed the province spent $35.6 million on nurses from private agencies within just a few months last year, and shelled out cash for travel nurses’ training, cable bills and other expenses. 

Coffey said a nurse who’s working nearly double the amount of time they were scheduled for is not getting appropriate rest or nutrition, and the circumstances don’t satisfy occupational health and safety standards.

“They’re at more risk of injury. All the studies and research show that at the end of a 12-hour shift, you are more prone to having an injury and making mistakes. So just take that and put it at 21 hours out of 24. You’ve increased the risks further.”

She also said the health authority didn’t consider the impact the scheduling snafu would have on patients. 

“If you have someone who’s working 21 hours out of 24, you are not getting the care that you deserve,” she said.

Abrupt, but anticipated, end of contract

Coffey said the union doesn’t have any experience dealing with private agency contracts but expects N.L. Health Services to have transition plans so the province’s nurses are not mandated to work.

“My hope would be that someone would have known this before midnight on the 27th.”

There are 715 nursing vacancies in the province, Coffey said, and while a lot of work has been done on recruitment, there are obvious solutions closer to home for the provincial government.

“We have other solutions that can be utilized and expanded upon, such as our travel locum, which is more cost-efficient and actually gives nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador an opportunity to go elsewhere within the province to experience that travel and learn about other areas of the province that they’ve never seen before.”

She said travelling to Labrador, in particular, has been a great experience for many nurses from Newfoundland, and many often choose to return to the Big Land.

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