Expenses that save lives

February 23, 2024

Like many other health care organizations in Canada, Vitalité Health Network made the decision to use agency staff to ensure the continuity of patient care in its facilities. Although costly, it remains a vital ethical decision for our Network, whose purpose is to foster the health of our patients and communities, today and tomorrow.

In 2022, the situation was critical, to the point where we were facing imminent emergency department and even facility closures. We had our backs against the wall, and only a very limited number of agencies were able to provide the French or bilingual resources needed, in a timely manner, to maintain the services we provide.

After a thorough review of the risks to the health and safety of our patients and health care workers and with the green light from the Department of Health, agency staff, including Canadian Health Labs staff, began working at Vitalité Health Network.

In retrospect, we need only think of the hundreds of lives that have been saved thanks to the support of agency staff and our own staff in maintaining dialysis treatment, emergency departments and other essential services, for example, to confirm that this decision was the right one. These patients, they have names… they are our family members, our neighbours, our loved ones.

Using agency staff is not a perfect solution. In addition to the associated costs, many have denounced the salary inequity it creates among nursing staff in the public and private sectors at a time when our health care workers most need support and recognition.

As a result, we have undertaken several major transformation projects and intensive recruitment initiatives to remedy the situation. Our recruitment and retention efforts are already yielding results, as the number of new hires has exceeded the number of departures since June 2022, which will enable us to gradually phase out the use of agency services by winter 2026.

The gradual reduction in agency services has been planned and has begun, but it would be impossible to do without them completely right now, given the immediate needs that are still as great as they were in 2022. The health, safety and well-being of our patients and communities remain at the heart of all our decisions.

Could the use of agency staff have been avoided? Possibly, with judicious planning by all partners over the past 10 to 15 years. Let’s turn our focus to the future instead, let’s learn from the past and, together, prepare for the future of health care. Let’s continue our efforts to improve community access, especially  through the integrated primary health care model, and patient flow within the system.

In closing, I am extremely proud of our teams within Vitalité Health Network. Their commitment and perseverance will enable us to pursue the major transformations required to meet current and future needs. On behalf of the Network and our patients, I would like to say a very sincere THANK YOU to them!

—Dr. France Desrosiers, President and CEO