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Margaret Melanson is the interim president and CEO of the Horizon Health Network. Image: Brad Perry

Horizon continues to reduce travel nurse usage

By Brad Perry Feb 26, 2024 | 3:13 PM

One of New Brunswick’s two health authorities is working to eliminate the use of travel nurses over the coming months.

Horizon Health currently has arrangements with four different agencies, according to interim president and CEO Margaret Melanson.

“These are short-term contracts able to be terminated as quickly as possible, so we are not in any type of long-term arrangement,” Melanson told reporters following last week’s board meeting.

One of the top issues raised by opponents is that travel nurses are paid significantly more than those employed by the health authority.

Melanson said the rates it pays travel nurse agencies range from $95 per hour for licensed practical nurses to $135 an hour for specialized registered nurses.

That is much less than the estimated $300 per hour that the province’s other health authority, Vitalit√© Health, is paying to Canadian Health Labs for travel nurses. Horizon does not have an agreement with that company.

“We felt the rates were as good as possible,” said the health authority’s interim president and CEO.

Melanson said Horizon has started to reduce its dependency on travel nurses as recruitment efforts begin to show signs of success.

During the peak in July 2023, Horizon had 250 full-time equivalent travel nurses across the province. That number has now dropped to around 80 full-time equivalents.

“Our hope is we’ll be terminating the contracts by later this calendar year,” said Melanson.

Looking ahead to the future, she said recruitment and retention is one way to prevent having to use travel nurses again.

The regional health authority is also “actively involved” in changes to skill mix, she said, such as optimizing where registered nurses are actually required to be.

“How we can optimize to full scope of practice licensed practical nurses, how we can utilize allied health professionals to also augment where we may not necessarily require only nursing support,” said Melanson.