OP-ED: They Were Warned

New Brunswick taxpayers have been exploited to the tune of $173 million, with no end in sight to the use of private, for-profit agencies, while many NB nurses leave the province and the profession.  

As President of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, I am not surprised at the findings in the Auditor General’s report on travel nurse contracts – but I am appalled and disappointed at the lack of oversight from our regional health authorities and the Department of Social Development. They neglected to ensure they were receiving value for our money. The deployment of teams, needed or not, and invoices lacking support for charges: these are the calling cards of a business that was given carte blanche to take taxpayers to the cleaners. All the while, our government was neglecting the NB nurses who have continuously shown up day after day with little to no recognition. 

New Brunswickers deserve better. Nurses deserve better. We need to take back our public health care system and get profits out of care. 

That isn’t to say the transition will be smooth. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be having these conversations; units would be staffed appropriately and New Brunswickers would be well cared for. Today’s reality is in stark contrast to that ideal, and it’s an expensive one that taxpayers need to understand.  

We recognize that travel nurses have helped fill a gap in staffing in underserved communities – without them, many facilities could not operate. The problem is a long-standing one of the government and employers not mitigating against what was predicted many years ago: the worst nursing shortage in decades. The mess we are in could have been avoided. 

Is it fair to say that the New Brunswick government is solely responsible for the lack of oversight on these contracts? Not yet. That will have to wait until more information is available on who knew what, and when.  

We also can’t blame the pandemic for these contracts. The AG report concluded that the pandemic only shone a spotlight on the health staffing shortage – one we have warned the government about for years. The report also demonstrated no correlation between the use of agency nurses and staff Covid cases.  

What may be fair to say is that regional health authorities have been operating in a landscape where desperate measures are inevitable. The Higgs government is the latest government of many who have consistently disregarded our warnings for years in favour of austerity measures and short-sighted solutions.  

This government has posted record budget surpluses during its tenure. Meanwhile, New Brunswick nurses are the lowest paid in Canada. A fully staffed shift is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, and nurses are having to work with limited resources for shifts of up to 24 hours, and sometimes longer. The province has dismissed our requests for retention incentives – an important measure that would bring critical human resource stability to our health care system, particularly if “return for service” requirements are part of a retention agreement. It would also bring our nurses’ compensation closer to our Atlantic counterparts’, and which could help ensure that more NB nurses choose to stay in the public system where they are desperately needed.  

These circumstances don’t happen by accident. They are the result of several consecutive governments’ disrespect for the nursing profession, and the current government’s pro-privatization agenda. It’s easy to imagine why a New Brunswick nurse might get fed up and leave. Far too many already have. 

We call on the New Brunswick government to act in the interest of New Brunswickers and the health care system they deserve. They can begin by listening to, and having meaningful discussions with the people who know the system best. 

Paula Doucet is the President of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, a labour organization of approximately 8,900 nurses in various healthcare facilities throughout the province of New Brunswick. 



Alix Saulnier
Communications Officer
[email protected]
Phone: (506) 453-7265