An investigation by CTV News has ignited widespread public indignation as it uncovers substantial markups private staffing agencies are charging the public health-care system for temporary workers, a move that health authorities and facilities forcibly contest.
A mix of frontline employees, politicians, and ordinary citizens have vocalized their shock and discontent over the business approach and prospective gains these agencies are set to harvest. They draw workers away from full-time, unionised jobs with irresistible benefits such as high per-hour rates, meal subsidies, other extra allowances for assignments undertaken more than 50 kilometres from home, alongside flexible working hours, which span various positions from nursing to care aids and technologists.
The contracts reveal a worrying trend, as companies are charging health authorities almost double the customary unionised wages of the workers, which equates to profit margins of about 30% or more.
BC Green Party Leader, Sonia Furstenau, has expressed her dismay at this matter. “It’s troubling to witness the actual figures. Public funds, taxpayers’ money, are filling up the treasuries of private corporations who are providing a service that should be rendered by the public system,” says Furstenau.
Expressing similar concerns, Shirley Bond, BC United opposition health critic, suggests that a comprehensive review is warranted on the use of taxpayers’ funding in this regard and its effect on workplace relations, given the stark payment discrepancies for the same job role.
In a bid to curb costs, the 16 contracts obtained after seven gruelling months of freedom of information dispute with the Provincial Health Services Authority indicate an active struggle to control and standardise the markups. All these contracts mirror the current agreements with B.C.’s health authorities.
An amendment to a deal made by Calian Ltd in Fall 2021, which provided and charged a staggering $115 per hour for nurses in Interior Health, saw the rates brought down and synced with other rates in the range of $70 per hour in August of the following year.
ProMed HR Solutions offers volume discounts of up to 10% and 20% for hours worked exceeding 496 and 1, 488 hours, respectively, although their exact rates remain undisclosed.
Former Health Minister, and now CEO of BC Care Providers Association, Terry Lake has urged both non-profit and for-profit care homes to adhere to the same rates. He believes this measure has eased the inflationary pressure on prices, and condemned some of the preceding rates as outrageous exploitation of the pandemic and increased demand for health workers.
Regarding the seven-fold surge in agency expenditure due to the strains imposed by COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, contact tracing, and the international exodus of health-care workers in the aftermath of the pandemic, both health authorities and the minister in charge pleaded guilty.
When quizzed about his government’s efforts to render public sector healthcare jobs more appealing and sustainable, Health Minister Adrian Dix pointed at the measures taken, such as the erection of new top-tier hospitals, key agreements with doctors and nurses, as well as an effective health and human resource strategy, which, he claimed, has resulted in successful staff acquisition.
Nonetheless, when asked if he intended to decrease dependency on profit-driven staffing agencies, Dix chose to sidestep the question. Instead, he stressed the balancing act of contract negotiations, their role in achieving the right incentives and ensuring there are enough permanent staff in the health-care system.