About 15,000 nurses have applied to work in Nova Scotia through a streamlined licensing process, and job matching is now underway for 606 already living in the province who’ve received commitment letters.

That was one piece of good news and “hope” that Nova Scotia Health (NSH) interim president and CEO Karen Oldfield delivered Thursday. Oldfield was addressing staff during the NSH annual general meeting held at the Cobequid Community Health Centre in Lower Sackville. 

“If we could wave the magic wand and just put people in place, we certainly would,” Oldfied said. “But there is great news on the nursing staffing front. Really good news. I’m really happy about it.”

The news comes on the heels of a Nova Scotia College of Nursing (NSCN) announcement in March. The nursing regulator implemented a new licensing and registration process that makes it easier for Canadian and international nurses to be licensed to work in the province. The approach was described as a first of its kind for Canada. 

Under the change, registered nurses who “demonstrate good standing and good character” and who are licensed in Canada, the Philippines, India, Nigeria, U.S. U.K., Australia, or New Zealand, “are eligible for registration and licensure in Nova Scotia immediately.” There are no additional requirements beyond passing the entrance exam.

“The public can depend on NSCN to license those who meet registration requirements and demonstrate they have the knowledge, skills, and competence required to safely and ethically practice as a nurse,” noted the release.

News on nursing front

During Thursday’s AGM, Oldfield replied to a staff email query about where new international nurses will be placed, and how staff can help them settle into their roles and communities. 

“This is a question that has pretty much come up at every spot in my tour so far this summer,” she said. “It’s staffing, and in particular nursing staff.”

Since NSCN opened its expedited process on May 1, Oldfield said more than 15,000 applications have been received from all seven countries on the list, but specifically from India, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

“Here’s how I look at this. On average, we’re running about 1,500 nursing vacancies across the province. We have 15,000 applications,” Oldfield said. 

“There is no reason why we can’t accelerate the work that has to be done to match those who want to come with the jobs that we have.”

Acknowledging that processes and red tape exist, Oldfield said progress has been made. Of the applicants, 606 already live in Nova Scotia. Underemployed, unemployed, or working as continuing care assistants (CCAs), she said they can transfer into the system “quite quickly.”

“Each (of the 606) has received a commitment letter. And we’re in the process of matching them. And that’s great, because they’re already here,” Oldfield said. 

“We know that there’s 900 more in Canada. So, they’ve already made the big decision to move to our country, (but have) yet to move to Nova Scotia.”

‘Give people hope’

Helping internationally educated health care professionals integrate into new communities by providing supports to combat feelings of isolation is critical, Oldfield said.

“We will do our very best to meet the needs of your facility as quickly as we can, and we will do that by building cohorts in your community so that we don’t have to worry about people feeling isolated or alone,” she said. 

“What we need from you is to be aware of it, to help us to make sure that the community supports are in place to land and integrate newcomers into our communities all across Nova Scotia.” 

A related piece of “good news,” Oldfield said, is that in many cases those who’ve applied to work in Nova Scotia have a partner who’s also working in health care. 

“We really have a great opportunity and I just want us to maximize what we can do with it…I think it’s very important, and I want to give people hope,” she said.

NSH top priorities

Oldfield was also asked about the organization’s top priorities. She said they include improving access to both primary and emergency care along with recruitment and retention.

“The third thing, and we’re starting to see the needle move on this, is reducing the surgical waitlist for Nova Scotians needing surgery,” Oldfield said.

Another emailed question came from a staff member wondering what the tagline “doing more, faster” really meant for them and their team. 

Describing NSH’s approach as “test and try,” Oldfield said they weren’t waiting for “exact perfect” conditions. 

“We don’t have to be at 110% before we can move forward. If we were at 75 or 80 or 85, depending on the test and try, that’s probably good enough,” she said. 

“Continuous quality improvement. That’s our mantra. We plan it, we do it, we see what worked, we make changes, try to do it better.”

Oldfield also said everyone in the organization can play a leadership role in “making changes for the better.” She also gave them permission to act. 

We don’t have to always wait to go through the layers to get the decision. If it’s the right thing to do, let’s do it. So when you see a problem, you have my permission, and you can quote me. You have my permission to act. Use your brain. Use your logic. I mean, we can’t just go out and go crazy. But if it’s egregious, it should be fixed. 

So really, we’re not asking you to do more with less. I mean, there’s been significant investments in health care. We are putting the resources in place to see the progress. We have great support. We have government support. So I really think it’s not doing more with less. It’s doing it a little bit differently.

Total revenues and expenses over $3 billion

Chief financial officer Derek Spinney also addressed AGM attendees. He said for the year just ended — and for the first time since its inception — Nova Scotia Health has reported total revenues and expenses in excess of $3 billion. 

“Given this large investment, we ended the year relatively balanced with a $1.8 million operating deficit position,” Spinney said. 

With their financial audit for the year just completed, he said the Auditor General gave a “clean audit opinion” on those statements. Spinney also said the multi-year road map completed by NSH over the past year “has led to monitoring and regular reporting” of the organization’s internal controls.  

“I’m very pleased to share that these actions have fully addressed a prior year auditor finding regarding our internal control environments,” Spinney said. “In addition, there were no new audit findings this year in our auditor’s report.”

Financial statements from NSH will eventually be posted online as part of its annual report for 2023.

According to the province’s public reporting data, of July 1, 152,001 Nova Scotians are on the Need a Family Practice Registry. 

Addressing the issue of primary care, Oldfield pointed to several initiatives and said NSH “worked hard” over the last year to change the perception of who provides primary care and how it’s delivered. 

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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