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Why is Nova Scotia making a looming nursing shortage worse?

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Photo: MTSOfan/flickr

So... Faced with a looming shortage of "several thousand" nurses over the next decade as our population both ages and also shrinks (read the Ivany report; look around you), our new Liberal government responds by... Well, let me count the ways.

1. The government alienates many current nurses by dismissing their concerns about patient safety as just another union negotiating ploy.

2. The government effectively removes nurses' right to strike by deeming almost all of them essential... without either compensating them to reflect that, or providing a fair alternative like compulsory arbitration to settle contract disputes.

3. The government's health minister wades into waters where he has no business, not merely, and reasonably, suggesting he would prefer one nurses' union instead of two in his one-big-health-board-of-the-future, but also expressing a clear but unseemly preference for one (more docile?) union over the other.

4. And finally, to season the pot of already roiling discontent among the most-important-to-our-future cohort of young nurses and nursing students, the government wipes out a tax break aimed at keeping post-secondary graduates in Nova Scotia.

With three of every five nurses in the province eligible to retire in the next 10 years, one would have thought the $15,000-per-graduate tax break -- was a worthwhile investment.

But the government claims the rebate -- which was for all post-secondary grads and which cost the treasury $49.5 million a year -- wasn't effective. In the words of Finance Minister Diana Whalen, "the research was that we were still seeing the same amount of out-migration."

Interesting. If graduates were claiming roughly $50 million in rebates to stay in Nova Scotia, how many of them will now decamp elsewhere? How many of them will be nurses?

For young nurses, of course, the disappearing rebate is just one more nail in the Nova Scotia coffin.

"No one wants to be here anymore," noted Caitlynne Baker, a vascular surgery nurse at the QEII hospital. She was one of three young nurses who told CTV News last month they are already looking at jobs south of the border.

Instead of spending $4.7 million on a new nursing strategy to retain nurses, the government might look at what it's currently doing to drive them away. 

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: MTSOfan/flickr

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