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Outcry and pushback against B.C.'s 'outrageous' spending on health-care temp agencies

A public outcry has followed a CTV News investigation that revealed the considerable markups private staffing agencies are charging the public health-care system for temporary workers, as health authorities and facilities push back. 

Frontline workers, elected officials, and the general public have expressed shock and frustration at the business model and potential profits to be had: companies lure workers from full-time unionized workplaces with high hourly pay, meals and other expenses covered when working more than 50 kilometres from home, and flexible hours for positions ranging from nurses to care aides to technologists.

The contracts reveal the companies are charging health authorities nearly twice the workers’ unionized wages, representing a markup of 30 per cent or more

“To see the actual numbers is quite distressing,” said BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau. “Public money, taxpayer money is going into the coffers of private corporations for them to provide the service the public system should be providing.”

BC United opposition health critic, Shirley Bond, suggested “there should be a review of what's happening when it comes to use of public taxpayer dollars” and what it’s doing to workplace relations between staff paid wildly different rates for the same work.


The 16 contracts obtained after a seven-month freedom of information battle with the Provincial Health Services Authority provide clues to behind-the-scenes haggling to control and standardize the markups. Most of the agreements are nearly identical and all are the current deals in place with B.C.’s health authorities.

When their latest agreement was signed in the fall of 2021, Calian Ltd was only providing nurses to Interior Health and charging a whopping $115 an hour for those workers. An amendment to that contract signed in August 2022 brought that in line with the other agreements, to the $70 per hour range.

ProMed HR Solutions, based in Comox, has fully redacted their rates and offers a 10 per cent volume discount for more than 496 hours worked, up to 20 per cent for more than 1,488 hours.

“I'm really happy to see the government, through the health services authority, come up with a more reasonable sustainable system of contracts,” said Terry Lake, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, who’d recently described the industry as at the “breaking point” due to the added costs.

He’s been encouraging members, both non-profit and for-profit care homes, to stick to the same rates, which he describes as having “taken the temperature down” on the escalating prices.

“They’ve been taking advantage of COVID and the change in the demand for healthcare workers. It seemed very, very exorbitant,” said Lake, a former health minister. “Some of these rates were truly, I would say, outrageous, and no other company gets to set their own rate with government.”


Health authorities and the minister in charge have blamed the seven-fold increase in agency spending on COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccinations and the international phenomenon of health-care workers fleeing the profession in the wake of the pandemic. 

CTV News raised the issue with Adrian Dix again on Wednesday, asking what his government was doing to make public sector health-care jobs more attractive and sustainable, to which he replied that the construction of new state-of-the-art hospitals, contracts with nurses and doctors, as well as a health and human resource strategy were resulting in successful recruitment efforts.

When pressed as to whether he intended to reduce the reliance on for-profit staffing agencies, or saw them as a part of how he’d keep the public healthcare system running going forward, Dix didn’t answer directly.

“It's a bigger issue in some places than others,” he replied, in part. “The purpose of our contract negotiations in many respects, from our perspective, was to ensure we're getting the balance right and getting the incentives right to ensure we have people working in our health-care system and working as permanent staff.” Top Stories

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