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Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan host duelling health-care recruiting events

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan are locked in a battle for health-care workers, as the two provinces set up recruiting efforts on each other's turf.
Newfoundland and Labrador's health minister Tom Osborne announced he's heading to Saskatchewan to recruit health-care workers, on the same say recruiters from the prairie province are attempting to lure workers away from St. John's. Osborne is shown in this Tuesday, December 17, 2019 file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan are locked in a battle for health-care workers, as the two provinces set up recruiting efforts on each other's turf.

Tom Osborne, the Atlantic province's health minister, told reporters Thursday he will be travelling to Saskatchewan next week for three events aimed at luring health-care workers to Newfoundland and Labrador. But he has said he's only doing it because Saskatchewan health officials have been in St. John's, N.L., this week trying to entice workers to head west.

"To be on the ground, doing an aggressive, active recruitment mission with staff, goes a little beyond what I would consider to be acceptable," Osborne said, adding that he could not leave Saskatchewan's move "unchecked." 

"It would leave our province vulnerable, it would tell other provinces that we are open to come and raid our health employees," he said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority's two-day stop in St. John's is part of its Eastern Canada recruitment tour, according to a post on the authority's website. The tour began in Toronto and Montreal earlier this month, and will end in Halifax and Charlottetown in October. Recruiters hosted events on Wednesday and Thursday in St. John's, the website says.

Osborne said he asked Saskatchewan's health minister earlier this month to call off the effort, but his plea was ignored.

Saskatchewan's Health Department said in a statement Thursday that the recruitment tour is "one of several strategies" to meet current and future health-care needs in the province. The statement did not respond to Osborne's complaint, nor did it say whether the authority had succeeded in recruiting workers from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Osborne acknowledged that provinces do launch advertising campaigns to tout themselves as an ideal destination for health-care workers, but he said Saskatchewan is the only one he knows of that is hosting recruiting events.

He said he would retaliate against any other province that arrives in Newfoundland and Labrador looking to lure its health workers.

"The message is, to every province, please don't come here, and we won't go there," Osborne said. "Because we are all facing shortages in health-care professionals."

Newfoundland and Labrador authorities were in India last year to recruit nurses. The country's nursing shortage is well-documented: a 2022 report from international accounting firm KPMG said India had a shortfall of 1.37 million nurses and midwives, measured against minimums recommended by the World Health Organization.

Osborne said the province has tried to recruit "ethically" overseas, noting that it pulled back from an on-the-ground effort in the Philippines because of that country's nursing shortage.

Yvette Coffey, president of Newfoundland and Labrador's Registered Nurses Union, was unimpressed by the duelling recruiting events. The money Osborne will spend on taking a team to Saskatchewan would be better spent improving conditions for workers already in Newfoundland and Labrador and creating a strategy to retain them, she said.

Furthermore, Coffey said she'd like to see provinces working together on a national retention strategy for nurses, rather than duking it out for workers.

She said there are about 750 vacant nursing positions across Newfoundland and Labrador, though Osborne pegged that figure at 580 as of August. Whether or not Saskatchewan's events this week in St. John's will increase that number will depend on the compensation and bonuses on offer, she said.

"Right now, we have a lot of disgruntled registered nurses and nurse practitioners in the province, and other health-care workers. If they're being offered bigger compensation or benefits, we're likely to lose some," Coffey said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2023.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press