Price tag for out-of-town nurses in ARH ER department: $768k

Emergency department vacancies filled by agency nurses costing four times the amount as employed nurses.

The Abbotsford Regional Hospital emergency department has dozens of nursing vacancies.

The Abbotsford Regional Hospital emergency department has dozens of nursing vacancies.

Fraser Health has spent about three-quarters of a million dollars so far this fiscal year on out-of-town nurses to fill shortfalls in the Abbotsford Regional Hospital emergency department.

That figure is approaching nearly triple the amount spent last year, when so-called agency nurses first began to be hired.

The ARH emergency department currently has about 30 vacant nursing positions. The health authority has turned to agencies providing “travel nurses” to fill those vacancies while the health authority recruits new workers and waits for others to graduate from programs or return from leave.

Such nurses cost the health authority about four times as much as a regular employed worker, Fraser Health CEO Michael Marchbank told The News earlier this month.

In response to an inquiry from The News, Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell wrote last week that about $768,000 had been spent in the 2016/17 fiscal year to date. The year ends on March 31. Last year, about $281,000 was spent. Fraser Health first turned to agency nurses midway through the year to fill vacancies.

“Vacancies occurred for a number of reasons, including a number of maternity leaves, nurses in school to receive specialty training, and difficulty in recruiting nurses to work in Abbotsford due to its distance from many other communities in the Lower Mainland,” Blackwell wrote in an email. “Agency nurses are just one of several ways we help fill nursing vacancies in the emergency department. When we have vacancies, we first reach out to our casual and part-time nursing staff, as well as full-time staff who may wish to work overtime. After we have pursued these options, we use agency nurses as a tool to help bridge the gap.”

Earlier this month, BC Nurses Union compared the working conditions in the ARH ER to a MASH unit in a war zone. The union said heavy congestion has contributed to the shortfalls and will make it harder to retain workers.

The union said some of the nurses are being flown into the area from as far away as Ontario.

One of the companies used by Fraser Health has been Solutions Staffing, which advertises for nurses through TravelNurse.ca. That website tells prospective workers: “It’s about Choice… It’s about Freedom… It’s about Money! Imagine working when and where you want, molding a career that supports your personal and professional goals AND allows you to see all that this beautiful country has to offer.”