Skip to main content

B.C care homes propped up by for-profit staffing agencies 'near breaking point'

The nurses providing care for some of British Columbia’s most vulnerable citizens are increasingly employed by for-profit staffing agencies, adding tremendous cost to operators and impacting seniors' quality of life and care.

On Tuesday, the B.C. Care Providers Association revealed that some care homes in the Interior and on Vancouver Island have 50 to 75 per cent of nursing staff contracted from pricey agencies, with 100 per cent in one community. Even Lower Mainland facilities are seeing an increased reliance on the workers, with the industry at a “near-breaking point” as a result.

“The residents and their families are seeing different people care for the residents all the time, so you're not getting that continuity of care, you're not getting the same quality of care,” said association president Terry Lake.

“We're hearing of situations where we have medication errors because the person coming in from the agency may not be familiar with the care plan, not familiar with the resident.” 

Nurses can make up to twice as much money working for agencies, rather than health authorities, which are bound by collective agreements negotiated with the BC Nurses’ Union. 

“Nursing agencies, we feel, are taking advantage of the (health-care staffing crisis),” said Lake. “They are hiring away nurses and care aides from operators and from health authorities and then joining the agency and offering them back at an exorbitant price.”


For the past year, CTV News has had to repeatedly press staff at the Ministry of Health and various health authorities for statistics on how many tax dollars are going to private companies to provide staff that used to be directly employed by health authorities.

So-called “travelling nurses” used to fill shifts in smaller health-care facilities in rural and remote communities when full-time, unionized staff took vacations or sick leave, but since the pandemic, staff across the province have been lured to those higher-paying contracts where they can make more money without the mandated overtime and other collective-agreement obligations of full-time staff. There’s been a seven-fold increase in B.C.'s payments to nursing agencies in the past five years. 

In that time, at least $146 million has been paid to the agencies, which make a profit for providing the staff. X-ray technicians and pharmacists are among the professionals agencies provide, but most are nurses. 

“We ignored the workforce for 15 years and now we wonder that they have a better opportunity, they’re going there,” said Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions president Linda Silas.

“(Government) might just have to bite the bullet and do something about it, because they're spending the money now.”


Critics have called this a “vicious cycle” that threatens the public health-care system, since nurses and other health-care workers contracted from staffing agencies can have a better work-life balance and earn far more money to do the same work. 

The Ministry of Health does not proactively provide information about money spent for the private delivery of public health care.

CTV News asked the health minister whether he was doing anything to get agency spending under control, and he pointed out much of the recent spending was hiring contact tracers, vaccinators, and other staff to help with pandemic response, claiming agency staffing only accounts for 1.4 per cent of all nursing hours in B.C.

“We’ve taken a series of specific actions,” said Adrian Dix. “Retention, supporting permanent work, recruitment efforts we're making – and the most historic agreement with the union in the history of BC – all of which is to support permanent nurses.”

Lake, who was a long-time health minister himself while serving as an MLA, said he’s opposed to making agency staffing illegal, as Quebec has done. Instead, he's urging all parties to sit together to figure out how to maintain care standards and the option of agency staffing.

Silas suggested British Columbians need to consider what it means to have health-care workers provided by a middle-man when government could simply pay staff better in the first place.

“Where are you tax dollars going?” she asked. “Is it to these private industries and making them richer? or is it investing into the workforce that is committed to British Columbia?” 


This story has been updated to reflect how information on the province's spending on agency nurses was acquired. It was through repeated inquiries to government and health authority staff, not through freedom of information requests. Top Stories


BREAKING Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton resigns

Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton is stepping away from politics, Premier Doug Ford's office confirmed Friday. McNaughton is the third minister to resign from Ford's cabinet this month, though his departure appears to be unrelated to the unfolding Greenbelt development scandal.

Stay Connected