by Morley Evans
Comment on Leader-Post FP Story
Head’s Will Roll. Your paper revealed today that the top-paid nurse in the RQHD (Regina) received almost $250,000 last year. The "executive director of workforce planning and employment services" (I wonder what they pay him?) thinks everything is just dandy, except that a poor nurse might be tempted to overwork to earn extra pay. Gee whiz. Of course she would be endangering her health because she would be dedicated to overcoming the nursing shortage. Of course. People who think like this are the reason the RQHD is a scandal. Some of the doctors they allow to practice medicine here are even worse. Along with their other crimes, these people killed my mother because they were "too busy" to get around to fixing her broken leg. The RQHD is out of control. This has been going on for a long time, but it won't go on forever. Heads will roll.
Top-paid nurse in ’09 made almost
The highest-paid nurse in the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region earned close to a quarter of a million dollars last year.
The top five salaries paid to registered nurses in the RQHR ranged from $180,530 to $243,540.
The nurse earning $243,540 was employed on a nursing unit at Regina Pioneer Village, while the second highest wage earner was an emergency room nurse who received $186,562.
In 2009, 255 RNs of the region’s 1,870 full-time registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses had salaries that exceeded $100,000.
In comparison, Dwight Nelson, the region’s CEO, earned $305,259 in salary and benefits in 2009 while senior medical officer Christina Vuksic received the second highest salary at $246,481.
John-Paul Cullen, the region’s executive director of workforce planning and employment services, attributes the nurses’ high salaries largely to overtime.
Full-time nurses typically work four 12-hour shifts. If they’re called back to work, their overtime is at double pay.
“When you work past a certain number of weekends or a certain number of hours of regularly scheduled time, you’re entitled to overtime and that’s clearly a driver on this,” Cullen said.
The RQHR staffing budget is approximately $440 million, excluding physicians’ salaries. About $170 million of that is paid to the RNs and RPNs.
“Nurses are very important parts of our health-care system,” Cullen said. “Clearly, we have a number of nurses who are working a lot and earning very high salaries. It’s money that’s entitled to them through our collective agreement. Overtime is something we have to find a solution to — both our union partners and the regional administration — to try and ensure that folks aren’t working beyond a point where their health is compromised.”
Rosalee Longmoore, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, shares that concern.
“To have a salary of something like $243,000, we’d be very concerned about the amount of overtime that is being worked … The more you’re working, the more stressed your life is,” she said.
She said a starting nurse earns $32.62 hourly or $63,569 a year. A nurse with at least 20 years experience makes $84,168 a year.
Longmoore said through the SUN-Government Partnership, there has been an increase in the number of nurses employed by the RQHR and that has eased the workload, but not enough. “Some of those have been new positions, some of them filled vacancies, but there are still a number of vacancies that exist in the health region,” she said.
Sick time, high turnover rates, general staff shortages and injury rates are other factors that are influencing the high overtime bill, Cullen said.
“There is a trend towards calling staff in on workload relief when you have very high acuity or when demand simply puts you in a position of bringing other staff in such as when our emergency room becomes very full … you don’t ever have a single driver,” he said. “It’s a combination of factors.”
The RQHR had a $6-million deficit for 2009-10. The largest contributing factor was compensation paid to staff for overtime.
“I think the literature shows that excessive amounts of overtime will affect the quality of care,” Cullen said. “This isn’t just a dollars-and-cents issue. This is about the well being of our staff and the well being of those we are in charge of and that’s our patients.”
To find solutions, Cullen said management is looking at each nursing unit.
“This is a provincial challenge,” he said. “At budget time in the spring, it was made very clear by the Ministry (of Health) that we had to address the situation.”
Across the region, more health-care workers are calling in sick.
Nurses miss an average of seven 12hour shifts a year because of illness.
To address the rising number of sick calls, the region is promoting a healthy lifestyle for staff by providing a monthly newsletter with healthy living tips, offering a smoking cessation program and lunch-time and after-work fitness programs.
“We also have a work-family wellness seminar that we offer on an annual basis to help people to balance their life more between work and family,” Cullen said.
The region has instituted an attendance support program to monitor employees’ attendance at work.
“We use a software package that tracks their hours and when we notice a spike in sick time utilization and we can pinpoint that employee, then we start a dialogue between them and their manager to try and understand what some of the barriers are to them coming to work,” Cullen said. “They could be having personal problems, they might have some physical problems.”
Workers’ Compensation Board injury claims — which are separate from sick time — are also taking a toll. In 2009-10, injury claims were up six per cent from the previous year. However, Cullen pointed out that people are returning to work quicker. In 2009-10, there were 529 days/100 full-time employees lost due to a workplace injury as compared to 581.27 days lost the previous year.
Still, Cullen concedes: “It’s higher than the rest of the province.”