Premier Andrew Furey recently attended a recruitment event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to encourage health-care workers to consider working in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Andrew Furey/Facebook)
Premier Andrew Furey recently travelled to the Middle East to lure health-care workers to Newfoundland and Labrador, but union representatives say they'd like to see more effort retaining workers already in the province.
Late last week Furey headed to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to attend the Canadian Health Attraction Recruitment Mission. In a statement, he said it was "an opportunity to showcase Newfoundland and Labrador as an ideal place for health-care professionals to work and live."
Not everyone is impressed by his trip, however.
Association of Allied Health Professionals spokesperson Erin Curran wrote in a statement that the union is "frustrated beyond measure with the premier's recent trip to Dubai and the celebratory tone used to position this trip as a demonstration of government's commitment to strengthening healthcare in this province."
While recruitment is important, Curran said it can't be a bigger priority than retention. She also called the premier's framing of Newfoundland and Labrador as a great place to work as "very misleading at best," pointing to hundreds of health care workers she says are close to leaving their jobs.
The backlash comes amid bargaining turmoil within the industry.
Three weeks ago, the health professionals' union — which represents an array of workers including physiotherapists, pharmacists and psychologists — walked away from contract talks with the provincial government. At the time, AAHP president Gordon Piercey said the union would be focusing on mobilizing its 800 members.
Members would still need to vote in favour of a strike.
"Our members are outraged and feel this is just another example of how little they are valued, appreciated and respected by their employer, especially since the premier has yet to make any effort to communicate with the AAHP," wrote Curran.
More proactive work needed
While Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees president Jerry Earle applauded Furey for going to Dubai to recruit, he said it shows how serious the problem is regarding the "vast number of vacancies" in health care.
He'd like to see what he called a "homegrown solution" for more on-the-ground efforts to convince people to choose to work in health care in the province.
NAPE president Jerry Earle says there needs to be more effort in recruiting local health care workers long before they graduate in order to address vacancies. (Terry Roberts/CBC)
"Yes, we have to rely on going international and that's not new. We've done that. But good on the premier for doing that piece," Earle told CBC News.
"But then the big piece in this province, we have to sit down and come up with a solution that's made right here in Newfoundland Labrador, to use that term."
Earle said he's spoken with nursing and social worker students who told him they haven't been approached by the government for work. In one class, he was told that recruiters from Nova Scotia had been around, but no one from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Earle said officials have to do a better job of recruiting locally and not waiting until people are already enrolled in post-secondary programs, but also reaching them in high school.
People who live here and are recruited to work here tend to stay, he said. Earle added he used to work in health care and can remember workers from Ireland being recruited, but few stayed.
"So we've just got a repetitive problem, where we're filling voids and losing people. Filling voids and losing people," said Earle.
"I continuously hear from members saying 'what about us? We're here today. We're working for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We're contributing everyday to our province.' So something has to be done."
So far, Earle said programs meant to address those concerns have been short-term based and he wants to see long-term solutions that will keep people working in N.L.
Registered Nurses' Union of Newfoundland and Labrador president Yvette Coffey says the situation won't improve if the government can't retain the health-care workers it's recruiting. (Mark Quinn/CBC)
In a statement, Registered Nurses' Union Newfoundland & Labrador president Yvette Coffey also voiced her concerns over the government's focus on recruitment over retention.
"We commend government for its recruitment efforts. However, government must also pay equal attention to retaining our existing health-care professionals and those we have already recruited."
She pointed out last year the government had recruited 400 nurses, but lost 330.
"If our province is losing health-care professionals at the same rate or faster than we can recruit them, things will not get better."
Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association president Dr. Gerard Farrell said in a statement it was "wonderful" that the government is looking to recruit physicians internationally, but like Earle, Coffey and Curran, he voiced concerns over retention.
Farrell added that there needs to be special focus on retaining the doctors coming out to Memorial University's medical school.
"If the government is truly serious about stabilizing the physician workforce, then it must ensure that Newfoundland and Labrador is at least competitive with the other provinces, otherwise we will keep losing doctors to other parts of Canada," he wrote.
CBC News reached out to Furey's office for an interview but he was unavailable because he is still in Dubai.
In a statement, Treasury Board president Siobhan Coady said that the government values all health care professionals, including AAHP members.
"We maintain our commitment to work towards reaching a resolution in collective bargaining with AAHP," the statement said.
Coady also reiterated that N.L. needs to recruit more people to work in the health-care sector and that it's important to recruit globally.