Write the cheques or pay the price?

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Added: Wed, 03/11/2020 - 2:05pm
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Allyson Beauregard
Rédacteur / Managing Editor
editor@journalpontiac.com

The Pontiac region has been in an uproar following news of the six month closure of the Pontiac Community Hospital’s (PCH) obstetrics (OBS) unit. Protests were organized at the Hull and Shawville hospitals and the MRC called a special meeting where they passed another resolution asking to equalize nurses’ wages with Ontario (see page 2). As a border region, the Pontiac’s nurses need only cross a bridge to make about $20,000 more annually. 
Through the slew of over a dozen OBS service interruptions since March 2019, Pontiac MNA André Fortin repeated that raising Québec nurses’ wages is the ultimate solution.
The Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais
(CISSSO) said they are turbo-charging recruitment efforts to have the unit
back in operation by September 2020, but re-opening on schedule is going to require some immediate, effective and concerted action.
If the province raises nurses’ wages nurses, it likely won’t be a speedy process and encouraging more students to pursue careers in healthcare isn’t a quick fix either. Intensified recruitment efforts began last year, but the problem continued to worsen. We can’t reliably count on these measures to re-open the PCH’s OBS unit by September 2020.
So what do we do? Do we wait with a hope and a prayer that CISSSO recruits the five nurses and one doctor needed to reopen the unit? Do we take a gamble that the government might act quickly to eliminate provincial wage discrepancies? Or should we, as an MRC, take matters into our own hands while we wait for the government to possibly act and long-term solutions to take effect?
If the problem is financial (a record number of nurses were issued licenses to work in Québec in 2018-2019, so the workforce exists), could the MRC Pontiac, with contributions from its municipalities and the Municipality of Pontiac, consider offering an incentive package to entice new OBS recruits with the condition that they must work in the local hospital for a set amount of time?
What about offering lump sum bonuses to narrow the Ontario-Québec wage gap? These could be quite attractive to graduates (or seasoned employees too!) looking for a home down payment to buy a vehicle, pay for a wedding, contribute to their RRSPs, pay off student loans, etc.
The funds could be taken from accumulated surplus’ (most municipalities have fairly hefty envelopes that can spare a few thousand dollars), development funds, discretionary budgets from our MNA and MP, or maybe grants. What about redirecting the $50,000 the MRC didn’t use for the PPJ as planned last year (see page 6)? Right now, we have the attention of regional media, so it will be easy to get the word out.
Recruitment peaks in April and May as students graduate. These months are quickly approaching and we need to make wise moves now to maximize recruitment opportunities.
The ball is in our court. We need action. Will our politicians do what is needed?