The New Brunswick Nurses Union says people shouldn't be misled by a recent report of hundreds of new nurses being registered to work in the province.
New registrations aren't the same as new hires, union president Paula Doucet said Tuesday. The number of nurses who are newly hired and working full time in the health care system is lower.
Morale is low among nurses, who are still struggling with a nursing shortage, Doucet said.
"It's still very disheartening across the province, in general, for nursing."
Doucet was reacting to a number released this summer by the Nurses Association of New Brunswick, the regulatory body for registered nurses and nurse practitioners. The association said 657 new nurses were registered from December 2022 to May 2023.
Doucet said morale is still low among nurses and they are still struggling with the nursing shortage. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
Doucet cautioned against reading too much into that figure, as even some nurses did.
She said she'd heard from nurses wondering where the 657new nurses were, since their impact still wasn't being felt.
In response, Doucet requested the number of hires from Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network.
The union said it learned Horizon hired 118 nurses from December 2022 to May 2023, and Vitalité hired 116 from January to June.
Neither health authority responded to a CBC News request for confirmation of the numbers.
"I needed to be very clear … about these numbers that there are not 657 brand new hires in New Brunswick," said Doucet.
Doucet said she wants to see consideration given to multidisciplinary clinics in rural areas as well as retention incentives for the nurses currently in the New Brunswick health care system. (CBC)
Some may only work in New Brunswick for a few weeks at a time on short-term contracts, she said.
"Many of them, more than 400, are temporary employees that are coming in for, could be anywhere from three, four, six, 12-week contracts, and then they're leaving and going back to their provinces."
The Nurses Association of New Brunswick didn't make an interview possible on Tuesday but sent a statement saying it has improved the registration process for nurses, including fast-tracking the registration paths for internationally registered nurses.
The association doesn't have information, however, about where the nurses work in New Brunswick or under what terms and conditions.
Travel nurses are Band-Aid, says Vitalité
While Doucet said she applauds the association for expediting registrations, she wants people to know the numbers being put out don't mean there are more than 650 new nursing graduates staying and working permanently in the province.
Horizon and Vitalité did not respond to a request for an interview, but Vitalité sent a statement addressing the hiring of travel nurses, a group Doucet said likely makes up a significant chunk of the new registrations.
"It is important to emphasize that the hiring of travelling nursing staff at Vitalité Health Network is done because we need immediate assistance to support our healthcare personnel," the network said in its statement.
"These reinforcements allow us to both lighten the workload of our teams, prevent burnout and overtime hours, and maintain essential services for the population we serve.
"It is a Band-Aid that we will gradually remove, and we plan to reduce the use of traveling nurses over the next two years."
CBC News asked the Health Department for information about why the number of registered nurses is so much higher than the number hired by the regional health authorities.
In an email response, a spokesperson said the regional health authorities would be better suited to answer questions about the hiring of nurses. The department said it has done some things to try to increase nurse numbers, including adding new seats in university training programs.
Retention initiatives needed, says union president
Doucet said in December, the vacancy rate in the acute care sector was about 1,200, including licensed practical nurses, who are not licensed by the association. She said these vacancies have not yet been addressed.
Doucet said she also wants to see consideration given to multidisciplinary clinics in rural areas as well as to retention incentives for the nurses currently in the New Brunswick health care system.
"They are the very ones that will show the ropes and give a proper orientation and mentor all of the new recruits that they're spending so much money in trying to recruit to New Brunswick," she said.
"Otherwise our system is going to crumble even worse than what it is now."