After firing thousands of healthcare workers over vaccinate mandates, the British Columbia government has announced it will spend $12 million to fast-track the registration and licensing process for foreign-trained nurses to address critical staffing shortages.

The funding includes $9 million in bursaries to help around 1600 foreign-trained nurses with the costs of assessment fees.

“Our government is committed to addressing the province’s demand for nurses,” said B.C. health minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday. “That’s why we’re launching this comprehensive suite of supports for internationally educated nurses to help them put their skills to use here in B.C.”

The nursing shortage in B.C. – which, as with many provinces, was at crisis levels before the pandemic – was intensified during the fall and winter when vaccine mandates preceded a hospitalization spike over the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

According to Dix, the lack of staff was so acute that one week in January alone saw 27,937 shifts unfilled. The province has continued to follow through with public-sector terminations despite these crippling shortages in healthcare personnel.

B.C.’s Ministry of Health has reported that approximately 2,582 employees in public healthcare settings have been fired over the vaccine mandate. This includes 927 employees from the Interior Health region, 474 from Fraser Health, 393 from Island Health and 304 from Northern Health, where the shortage was reported to be most critical.

Despite provinces including Alberta having already welcomed unvaccinated healthcare workers back to their jobs, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has reiterated that B.C. requires them to be vaccinated. This requirement comes even as Henry had suggested during the Omicron wave that vaccinated healthcare workers who tested positive for COVID might still go to work with “very mild or asymptomatic cases.”

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms lawyer Charlene Le Beau spoke to True North on behalf of a group of nurses and other healthcare professionals who were fired for not complying with B.C.’s vaccine mandates.

Pointing out that the evolving science does not support the mandate, Le Beau added that hiring foreign-trained nurses to replace those fired over COVID shots continues the callous and unfair treatment of terminated healthcare workers in B.C.

“There may have been a healthcare worker shortage in B.C. prior to the vaccine mandate, but the province exacerbated the problem by unnecessarily mandating the vaccine on the healthcare workers,” she said. “They were faced with an ultimatum– either submit to coercion and take this new vaccine, or lose their jobs.”

“Perhaps the province’s money would be better spent on taking care of the healthcare workers in its own backyard before looking further afield to replace the ones whose positions they so callously terminated.”

She added that the province’s approach didn’t make financial sense either, with some of the B.C. Health authorities hiring contract healthcare workers to fill the gap and paying these contractors more than the fired employees they replaced.

Le Beau’s clients have filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court, asking it to strike down the vaccine mandate over Charter rights violations and because Henry “has failed to provide a meaningful process for exemptions.”

The case is expected to be heard this summer.

 

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