‘It’s going to bankrupt health care’: Spending on temp agency nurses up more than 550% since pre-pandemic at one Toronto hospital network
Hospitals across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are hiring temp agency nurses to supplement the labour they can’t find in the workforce, and some are reporting that the new arrangement is paying off.
Temporary nurses in this arrangement are paid by an agency — not a hospital — and are given housing and transportation, which hospitals are currently not providing for the nurses. The arrangement is also expected to save money for hospitals, as the salaries, housing and commute costs go largely to the agency.
But several hospitals across the region are now reporting that they are running out of money — or have been forced to cut back on everything from full-time staff to medical equipment — since the influx of temp agency nurses has increased their spending on patient care and other costs.
The impact on health care costs in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area has prompted a growing debate over how much the temporary agency-nurse model is worth and what the costs of health care will ultimately be once health care workers are back on the job.
The current arrangement with hospitals is expected to continue, given the need to staff hospitals in the short term.
“Right now we’re in a transitional period,” said Karen Leitch, president and CEO of the Hamilton and District Health Network, in an interview with The Star.
“You need to have an appropriate workforce and you need to be prepared to move when they’re needed. We’re in a period of transition.”
The hospital network has been grappling with the staffing situation since the pandemic forced hospital closures, and the temporary staffing agency has a different approach to managing the situation.
According to documents filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the agency that employs the temporary nurses — the Hamilton and District Staffing Agency — pays them $27.81 an hour. That’s