June 13, 2024

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Manitoba reviewing contract after staffing agency fails to bring over any doctors after 8 months

3 min read

Manitoba’s health minister is examining why a staffing agency has little to show for itself after signing a contract to bring 150 family doctors to the province.

Eight months after the province inked a two-year deal with Canadian Health Labs (CHL), the firm has yet to recruit a single doctor to the province, the government confirmed on Tuesday. 

Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara is promising to review the contract as the government evaluates any further actions to take.

“Of course, it’s disappointing,” Asagwara said after an unrelated news conference.

“Manitobans are counting on governments — previous government and our government included — to make sure that we’re recruiting the physicians needed to provide the care that they deserve.”

The former Progressive Conservative government inked the deal with Canadian Health Labs, a Toronto-based recruitment company, last August after a competitive request for proposals process. 

Supposed to hire 150 doctors

The company is supposed to recruit 50 physicians in Winnipeg, 50 in northern Manitoba and 50 in other rural communities — all within two years.

While there’s an option for the deal to be extended into a third year, former PC health minister Audrey Gordon expressed confidence last summer the target would be met. She added the recruitment firm would face penalties if goals weren’t achieved at certain stages of the contract. 

Asagwara said a review of the province’s deal is ongoing.

“I am doing my due diligence as the minister to evaluate that contract thoroughly and determine best next steps forward.”

No options are off the table, Asagwara said. Choices may include delaying or terminating the contract, according to a redacted contract Radio-Canada received through a freedom of information request. 

CHL maintains it has done a “significant amount of work” in recruiting family physicians to the province, the vast majority of which are international candidates.

In February, Shared Health, which oversees health-care delivery in Manitoba, told CBC News the firm has “assigned dedicated recruiters in a number of countries and is planning virtual recruitment events to offer information about physician opportunities in Manitoba.”

On a job posting on CHL’s website, the firm tells interested physicians Manitoba provides “a rewarding medical career and an exceptional quality of life.”

Canadian Health Labs is also offering people who refer interested physicians willing to travel to Manitoba for work a referral fee of $3,500. It’s unclear if this offer is connected with the firm’s commitment to hire 150 physicians for Manitoba. 

NDP mum on its recruitment progress

The company’s limited progress thus far is a setback for the NDP government, which has made recruiting health-care workers a top priority.

In last year’s election, the party committed to hiring 400 more physicians within five years.

Asagwara, nor the government, would answer Tuesday if the government’s made any progress.

“There’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all approach to recruiting physicians to Manitoba,” the minister said.

“We are taking a dynamic approach. We’re working with anybody and everybody across the system who wants to participate in recruiting physicians to our province.”

PC spokesperson Matt Preprost said the Tories, while in government, “put in a plan to recruit doctors and the implementation now falls to the current government.” 

Canadian Health Labs was subject to a Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year that found the company was charging other provinces more than $300 an hour for a nurse — roughly six times what a local staff nurse earns.

While the staffing agency won the contract to recruit doctors to Manitoba, it has limited experience in the field. The company only turned to health-care staffing during the pandemic. 

Doctors Manitoba, which advocates for physicians in the province, said it doesn’t have much first-hand experience with CHL.

The association was invited by Shared Health to identify doctors’ offices in need of recruitment help and it provided the firm with a list of more than 50 clinics. Doctors Manitoba said it isn’t aware if CHL has contacted those clinics. 

Manitoba reviewing contract that’s led to 0 new doctor hires in 8 months

The provincial health minister is reviewing a contract with a Toronto-based staffing agency that’s appeared to make little progress toward its goal of hiring 150 more family physicians in two years.

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