GN abandons recruiting of international nurses

“We spent so much money for nothing.”


The Government of Nunavut has abandoned recruiting nurses from India and the Philippines after the experiment, which cost more than $1 million since 2004, proved to be a resounding failure.

That’s because the GN botched the plan by not offering adequate training to overseas nurses upon their arrival, says one source close to the file, who spoke to Nunatsiaq News on a confidential basis.

“The tragedy is that we have lost them. We spent so much money for nothing, and it’s the taxpayers’ money. If we had been able to do it right, we would have had those nurses in our territory,” the source said.

In 2005 and 2006, 17 nurses from India and 21 from the Philippines arrived in the territory. But of these 38 nurses, 14 failed their qualifying exams to practice in Canada and eventually left Nunavut.

Two batches of these nurses were required to take the exams within five days of their arrival in Ottawa. They failed because they were still jet-lagged, says the source.

Three other batches of international nurses went to Iqaluit where they spent a month prepping for the courses before returning to Ottawa for the exam.

In all cases, the nurses were not adequately taught Canadian health protocols, which are markedly different from those in their home countries, the source says.

That led them to flunk their exams.

“They should have been brought here, given one week of orientation, and then one or two weeks of practical experience, so they would know the protocols. If you only know these theoretically, it’s hard to choose which one to select on an exam. That training component was not properly delivered,” the source says.

Resumés of the nurses show they were highly educated. One had more than 25 years of nursing experience, and several advanced degrees. Most had left their families behind and quit good jobs to come to Nunavut.

After many nurses failed their exams, they were flown to smaller Nunavut communities to work under agency nurses, who were supposed to serve as mentors to prepare the international nurses to re-take their exams.

But some agency nurses, who are hired on short-term contracts, resented the international nurses, who were hired on an indeterminate basis, the source says. So they harassed the international nurses.

“They would be told you don’t know anything about this. Basically they were telling nurses who had been in the field for years ‘you don’t know how to do this.’ It was psychological torture. Some of them had even passed their exams already,” the source says.

As well, some patients made racist comments to the international nurses, such as “you’re coming here to take over our land,” the source says.

Several nurses were transferred from community to community, giving them little chance to settle in their new homes.

Most of the nurses who flunked their exams on their first try didn’t pass on their their second try either, and had to go south for preparatory courses. About half have now passed and are working outside Nunavut.

The international nurses fared best in the larger centres of Nunavut. In Rankin Inlet, there are still seven, and in Cambridge Bay there are five.

The remaining international nurses are likely to stay in Nunavut, so they can apply for permanent resident status in Canada and bring their families over.

But Nunavut doesn’t want international nurses anymore.

Last week, Leona Aglukkaq, the health minister, said Nunavut has given up on hiring nurses from overseas from the Trillium Talent Resource Group, a Toronto-based consulting and recruitment firm.

“We’ve had to change the focus of recruitment with Trillium and to concentrate not on international nurses but Canadian nurses,” Aglukkaq said, while she was one day into a four-day defense of her department’s budget in the legislature’s committee of the whole.

Aglukkaq said the GN paid Trillium for 34 international nurses. Of those, she said 12 nurses failed and 22 nurses remain in Nunavut. These numbers are lower than those cited by the source who spoke to Nunatsiaq News.

According to Shirley Adler, the health department’s executive director for finance, the GN had already paid Trillium another $326,000 up-front to recruit 16 more nurses for indeterminate positions, for a total of 50, when it turned out the international nurses were having trouble qualifying to practice.

Altogether, between 2004 and 2006, Trillium received about $1 million for its recruitment of foreign nurses.

But the health department actually ended up spending a lot more money. That’s because Trillium was not responsible for covering the salaries to the nurses who flunked their exams or to pay their replacements.

During the committee of the whole, Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo hammered Aglukkaq and her department’s top officials on the issue.

“It’s up to us to make sure we are spending money wisely, and in this case I know I was concerned at the time when they were paid up front for the contract,” he said.

Tootoo said the health department had a “laissez-faire attitude” towards its recruitment agreement with Trillium.

“Is there some point where you say, ‘sorry, you didn’t live up to your obligation under the contract. Give us our money back’?”

In defence of the deal with Trillium, Aglukkaq said Trillium’s recruitment efforts helped reduce nurse vacancies in Nunavut from 81 out of 168 in 2004 to 54 out of 168 in 2006.

Dave Richardson, the assistant deputy minister for operations, said the health department now has a contract until 2010 with Trillium to “recruit a pool of nurses, replace any international nurses who have left and to increase our numbers by 50 indeterminate nurses.”

Deputy minister Ron Browne said Trillium plans to hire 28 Canadian-trained nurses “as soon as possible” to work as full-time, indeterminate nurses. The health department also wants to find 50 more indeterminate nurses from Trillium.

Aglukkaq said “over the long haul having a home-grown northern workforce is the best way to stabilize our system of care.” She said there are now 29 students in Nunavut Arctic College’s nursing program.

But still faced with a shortfall of indeterminate nurses, the health department is asking for $1.5 million above and beyond its operational budget to cover agency nurse recruitment and wages.

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