NASSAU – American recruiters are poaching Bahamian nurses from the country’s cash-strapped public healthcare system, according to Health Minister Dr Duane Sands, who said 70 nurses have left this month.
Dr Sands told The Tribune the worsening phenomenon has been magnified by existing shortages in the Bahamas health score, underscoring that some 400 more nurses are needed.
Recruiters from the United States are offering Bahamian nurses a green card, better wages and far more attractive incentives than those being offered locally, he explained.
“We have to keep it real and let the Bahamian people know what the issues are. There has to be transparency,” said Dr Sands.
He continued: “This has been a longstanding problem but it has gotten significantly worse and that is what happens when you take your eye off the ball. I have conducted a special review of the circumstances of nurses in the country.
“This is a special priority for me,” Dr Sands added, noting additional resources may need to be directed towards retaining nurses in the country.
“We have many Filipino and Africana nurses in our clinics because many of our Bahamian nurses are now working in South Florida. We have to make the necessary decisions to deal with this issue. If we don’t there may be very few nurses left and for safety reasons we will have to shut down services because you cannot have unskilled labour.
“We have lost many nurses out of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for instance because they have marketable skills and we can’t pay them what they are worth,” said Dr Sands.
Dr Sands noted that with the starting salary for nurses at just over $20,000 a year, US recruiters are able to offer far more attractive salaries and benefits.
“We are 400 nurses short right now across our health care system in terms of what is safe and optimal. There is also a shortage in North America and they can’t train nurses fast enough but there they have money,” he continued.
“They come down have a nice session at the Hilton say to these young ladies primarily, many who are single and say, ‘Look, we can give you a Green Card right now and a better salary.’ When you as a nurse cannot afford a car or a home and you are supposed to be considered a professional and someone says to you tomorrow, we will do this for you, we will give you a Green Card, you will have access to $50,000 to $60,000 a year plus training what would you do? They are quite happy to accept the offer and move to Hialeah or West Palm Beach” said Dr Sands.
The Bahamas is by no means the only country in the world wrestling with a nursing shortage.
A World Bank Report in 2010 noted the region is facing a rapidly growing shortage of nurses “as demand for quality health care increases due to an aging population, and high numbers of nurses emigrate, drawn by higher paying jobs in Canada, the UK and the USA.