New Brunswick

Vitalité seeks partner for daycare pilot for health-care workers in Restigouche

The Restigouche region could be a step closer to getting a pilot daycare for health-care workers, according to the head of Vitalité Health Network.

Request for proposals to be issued in weeks after regional leaders call delay 'unacceptable'

A closeup shows a child's hand pointing to a drawing of cartoon animals on a table, while other children are seen in the background working on crafts.
Restigouche leaders say a daycare is needed to help with recruitment and to attract people to the region. (Rob Kruk/CBC)

The Restigouche region could be a step closer to getting a daycare pilot for health-care workers, according to the head of Vitalité Health Network.

The regional health authority plans to issue a request for proposals for a partner to run such a daycare "in the next few weeks," president and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers told CBC News.

It would be Vitalité's first in New Brunswick.

Desrosiers made the comments following Vitalité's public board meeting in Campbellton on Tuesday, where several regional leaders used the question period to reiterate the urgent need for a designated daycare that would operate seven days a week and at least 12 hours a day, if not 24.

"For almost two years now, we've been discussing the need for a daycare for healthcare workers," said Brad Mann, president and chair of the Restigouche Regional Service Commission, which encompasses the municipalities, communities and local service districts from Durham Parish (excluding Belledune) in the East to the Kedgwick rural community in the West.

A portrait of a man with dark hair, wearing a red collared shirt and blue blazer.
A daycare is one of the top priorities for the Restigouche Regional Service Commission, said president and chair Brad Mann. (Submitted by Brad Mann)

"Some existing employees are unable to return from maternity [and] other leaves because they cannot find a daycare," he said. "Others do not accept positions here because they have no daycare."

"[In] March 2023, we were assured the daycare would be in place by September. We're now April 2024 and it is still in development."

It's "unacceptable," said Mann, who called for a "commitment and a timeline" for a daycare to be established.

Could reduce need for travel nurses

Normand Pelletier, mayor of Heron Bay, said a daycare is needed, not only to help nurses get back to work, but also to attract young professionals to the region.

"We spoke with the premier and his departments [last year] and they support us completely in this process," Pelletier said in French.

"Now we have several travelling nurses. And they're very expensive for the province," he said, after the meeting heard Vitalité is nearly $98 million over budget for the first 11 months of the 2023–2024 fiscal year, $94.2 million of which is because of expenses related to travel nurses.

"We're certain that [a daycare] can help solve the issues at the Campbellton Hospital in terms of staffing."

'A cry from the heart'

Campbellton Mayor Jean-Guy Levesque told the board "aggressive solutions" are needed and described a daycare as a "concrete solution that should already have been implemented."

He noted the municipality recently secured $4.5 million from the federal government and plans to build at least 200 housing units, which should help with recruitment.

But when health-care professionals move to the area, they bring their families with them, he said.

A portrait of a man with glasses, wearing a white collared shirt with thin blue stripes and a blue blazer, with other people standing around, talking in the background.
Campbellton Mayor Jean-Guy Levesque said the municipality and regional service commission could help Vitalité find a partner for the daycare. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

"We [will] take care of their housing, but if we don't take care of the daycare problem, people will not come to Restigouche."

Levesque, a public servant for 35 years, urged the board to "pay attention."

"This is a cry from the heart," he said. "We really need this daycare — and quickly."

'Can't do it on our own'

Desrosiers said during the meeting that a daycare has "always been part of [Vitalité's] vision."

But "we can't do it on our own," she said. "We need support."

Later, she told CBC Vitalité's mandate is to deliver health care, not run a daycare.

A portrait of a woman with long, wavy hair and glasses, wearing a red top, speaking.
Dr. France Desrosiers, president and CEO of Vitalité Health Network, said Restigouche is the right place for a daycare pilot because that's where the biggest recruitment challenge is. (Gilles Boudreau/Radio-Canada)

"So we are looking for partnership in the community," she said, adding another holdup has been getting enough funded spaces, because that's what employees are looking for.

Initially, Vitalité got fewer than 20 spaces, Desrosiers said. The situation is "better now," but she could not provide a number.

Submit proposal, says province

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development did not respond directly to questions about the proposed daycare for health-care workers in Restigouche.

In an emailed statement, spokesperson Judy Désalliers said the department is aware there is a need for more early learning and child care spaces in the province.

The department's role, she said, is to ensure designated early learning and child care spaces are allocated to viable projects in areas of greatest need and to provide support to operators, including capital funding, so they can open their services.

"We've recently launched an Open Call for Proposals which invites existing and prospective operators to apply to open new designated spaces for children aged five and under. We encourage community groups, including the one you are referring to, to submit a proposal," said Désalliers. "We will review the application if it is received.

"Once the proposals are evaluated, and proponents receive confirmation of the designated space allocations, the proponents are then responsible to manage the project of creating these spaces. This includes finding and securing a building, setting up the facility, hiring staff, purchasing materials and equipment as well as obtaining a license to operate from EECD."

Neighbouring Nova Scotia has a round-the-clock daycare pilot underway in Sydney; the Health Park Early Learning Centre. The province covers the wages when extra staff are required, food for the evening program, and a quarter of the operating costs of the daycare, such as heat and electricity. It also subsidizes half the daycare fees for parents. 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, four daycare sites with a combined 180 spaces and hours that are suitable for health-care workers are expected to be open by the end of the year, the Education Department told CBC News

Horizon pursues daycares for Saint John, Fredericton 

"Horizon is actively working toward providing daycare services in Saint John and Fredericton, in collaboration with our hospital foundations," said president and CEO Margaret Melanson.

"We have made very good progress to date, and we hope to have further announcements later this spring."

She said Horizon already has a daycare at the Moncton Hospital, which is used by staff as well as members of the community.

In early 2022, Horizon conducted a survey about the possibility of creating a daycare program either onsite or near the Saint John Regional Hospital and the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton. It's conducting another survey to better understand how many children and what age groups would potentially use the program, according to its website.

Best location for Restigouche in dispute

Vitalité has identified a location for the Restigouche daycare "five minutes" away from the hospital, said Desrosiers.

She declined to say exactly where, because some health-care professionals work there now and have not yet been informed that they may need to move.

The former addiction services building on Gallant Dr. had been flagged by the regional services commission as an ideal location, because it's between the Campbellton Regional Hospital and Restigouche Hospital Centre, and near the new detox centre — roughly 1,300 health-care workers, according to Mann.

A large brown building with a white 'H' overlooks streets and a crosswalk.
Mann says the daycare needs to be in a hospital, or very close to it, in order to be convenient for health-care workers to drop off and pick up their children when they work early, late and long shifts. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

But that site was deemed "not appropriate" because of its proximity to the highway and certain services, such as detox, which Desrosiers said raised concerns about safety for the children.

The other proposed location, in hospital, was quickly ruled out too because the renovation costs would be "three times" as high, and the space is needed for beds, she added.

Desrosiers could not say how quickly a daycare could be up and running, but did say she is "optimistic" about the request for proposals process, as some private contractors have already expressed interest.

Support from health professionals

The New Brunswick Nurses Union supports calls by the Restigouche Regional Service Commission to establish a daycare program for health-care workers, said president Paula Doucet.

"It's one piece of a very large puzzle," she said, referring to recruitment and retention.

A portrait of a woman with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing a grey blouse and royal blue jacket.
Just finding a daycare spot can be difficult, but it's even more challenging for nurses when many daycares only operate between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and they often work 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., said Paula Doucet, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union. (Daniel St Louis/New Brunswick Nurses Union)

The need for convenient daycare hours is one of the big issues the union has heard from members through various surveys over the years, said Doucet.

She noted many daycares only open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m., while many nurses start their shift around 7 a.m. and work for 12 hours.

Some nurses have had to reduce their full-time hours to part-time or casual because of daycare hour conflicts, she said.

A smiling woman with dark hair and a short bob hairstyle.
Dr. Paula Keating, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said childcare is a 'major concern' for many physicians. (Submited by N.B. Medical Society)

The New Brunswick Medical Society also supports the need for a daycare in Restigouche, said president Dr. Paula Keating.

"Access to childcare has repeatedly been identified as a primary factor in the ability of health professionals to keep working," she said in an emailed statement.

"Many physicians, especially those newer to practice, have young families and childcare is major concern. For that reason, the NBMS has long advocated for childcare programs, supported by government, to be made available for health-care workers," Keating said.

"This would not only allow physicians currently practising in New Brunswick to return to work sooner or more completely, but would also serve as a legitimate incentive in recruiting new physicians to the province."