Island Health paid $21.5 million in nurse overtime in 2022/23


In a joint investigation with Six Mountains, CHEK News has learned that four nurses on Vancouver Island are among the highest-paid employees in Island Health.

The nurses, whose names CHEK News has decided to keep confidential, took home more than $300,000 in 2022/23. One made only $8,000 less than the CEO of the health authority.

BC Nurses Union (BCNU) and the province say these nurses are outliers who would have to work massive amounts of overtime to nearly double their base salaries.

“There’s only a few that make over $150,000, and it’s usually because they’re working all the time,” B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix told CHEK News.

Right now, the base wage for a registered nurse in B.C. ranges from $6,500 to just under $11,500 a month, equivalent to $140,000 a year or less. But overtime is tipping the scales.

“The system is reliant on it. Many nurses are required to work overtime to meet the demands of care,” said Andriane Gear, president of BCNU.

In Island Health, the amount of overtime health-care providers work has only increased since the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, Island Health’s target overtime rate was 3.9 per cent of hours worked. In practice, they were hitting 4.87 per cent.

Three years later, in 2023, the level of overtime that’s considered acceptable has not only increased to 6.9 per cent for Island Health, but their actual overtime rate nearly doubled to 7.97 per cent.

A health-care system reliant on overtime

Island Health says it paid a total of $21.5 million in overtime premiums to registered nurses in 2022/23, and the story of health authorities increasingly relying on overtime is playing out across the province.

Overtime metrics across B.C.

  • Island Health
    • 7.97 per cent
  • Vancouver Coastal Health
    • 6.6 per cent
  • Fraser Health
    • 9 per cent
  • Interior Health
    • 7.7 per cent
  • Northern Health
    • Did not respond in time

Year over year, overtime rates have been increasing. Also on the upwards swing is the provincial threshold of what overtime level is acceptable, regardless of the risks.

“When you’re required to work more than 12 hours, the rate of injury to nurses, but also the potential for med errors or other incidents at work, goes up exponentially,” said Gear.

“Pilots can only fly for so long, they’re required to take so many hours off between flights. In other transport industries like trucking there are safeguards to protect the worker, but also protect the public.”

In nursing across Canada, there are no current rules or regulations limiting nurses’ hours of work.

Nurse-patient-ratios may make overtime skyrocket

On Friday, March 1, the province announced new nurse-to-patient ratios, designed to decrease occupational injuries and burnout among nurses while improving patient care. But that action, given the current approximate 5,000 nurse deficit in B.C., might make overtime even worse.

“With any change, of course, there’s growing pains,” said Gear.

Gear says she’s been pushing to implement ratios for two decades at BCNU, and thinks changing the working conditions of nurses will help fill B.C.’s current nursing vacancies in the long run.

“I hope the ratios signal to other jurisdictions and will actual aid in recruitment. Our current collective agreement pays better than other provinces, and I feel that ratios will actually create more of a want to work in B.C.,” said Gear.

There’s no timeline for when the ratios will be put in place. Gear says it’s still a ways off, but they provide optimism for the future. In Australia, nurse-to-patient ratios took years to be fully implemented.

“The real issues on the Island is getting more nurses,” Dix told CHEK News.

The province says it’s working on it, with $237 million being used to recruit and retain nurses, including about $68 million on training and licensing internationally trained nurses. All with the goal of increasing nurse numbers, improving patient ratios, and hopefully cutting back on overtime.

With files from Larry Pynn of Pynn has words in Hakai Magazine and The Tyee, and previously was a reporter with the Vancouver Sun.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway
Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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