Jamaica Says U.S. And Others Are 'Poaching' Its Nurses | KERA News

Jamaica Says U.S. And Others Are 'Poaching' Its Nurses

Jan 10, 2017
Originally published on January 10, 2017 5:23 pm

Jamaica is facing a crisis as specialized nurses leave the island to take jobs in North America and Europe.

The exodus has forced Jamaican hospitals to reschedule some complex surgeries because of a lack of nursing staff on their wards.

James Moss-Solomon, the chairman of the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, says the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are, in his words, "poaching" Jamaica's most critical nurses.

"Specialist nurses is the problem. We have tons of regular nurses," he says.

He's talking about nurses trained to work in such settings as intensive care units, operating theaters and emergency rooms. They're the ones being lured away. Moss-Solomon says it's very hard to replace them.

"We do very good training of specialist nurses here," he says. "We train them at a fraction of the cost of what it costs you in the United States or Canada or the U.K.. So it's an economic issue. There's a great saving [for foreign countries] in just poaching instead of training."

Moss-Solomon says the exodus is crippling hospitals across Jamaica. Last week his hospital was forced to cancel several complex elective surgeries because it didn't have the staff to handle the procedures.

Jamaica has tried to re-staff those wards by offering free training for nurses to get advanced degrees. The nurses agree to work for three or four years in Jamaica in exchange for the heavily-subsidized education. But those efforts have backfired as foreign recruiters have snapped up the newly minted specialists the moment they graduate. The nurses are slapped with a fine of typically $5,000-$6,000 if they skip their in-country service. But the recruiting agencies simply pay off the obligation.

Kevin Allen, the CEO of the University Hospital of the West Indies, says Jamaica simply can't compete with the deep pockets of hospitals in North America and Europe.

The starting salary for a nurse in Jamaica is less than $8,000 a year. With some specialized training and working overtime, she (and the island's nurses are almost all women) could possibly make up to $20,000 a year. Recruiters are offering two to three times that to take a job in the U.S. or London.

About 200 of the country's 1,000 specialist nurses left the country last year, says Janet Coore-Farr, the head of the Nurses Association of Jamaica. She says this hemorrhaging of nursing staff has continued in the first week of 2017.

In one 500-bed hospital, ten nurses have left since the new year, she says, "and more are leaving. And these nurses are trained in accident and emergency."

As more nurses leave, the work load grows even heavier for those who stay behind. Coore-Farr says many nurses in Jamaica are now regularly expected to work double shifts, which might make some of them think about taking a job in Phoenix or Toronto.

"There's no retention strategy for the nurses who are here," she says. "We feel quite frankly that nobody cares. But it's a serious problem."

The Jamaican Minister of Health says he does recognize the huge problem the island is facing with the loss of nurses. In the short term, University Hospital of the West Indies is bringing in 25 nurses next month from Cuba to help staff some wards and has plans to recruit nurses from India and the Philippines in what's become a crazy global race that extends far beyond Jamaica to snap up health care professionals.

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Jamaica's health care system is facing a crisis. Some of the island's most highly trained nurses are leaving to take jobs in North America and Europe. The shortage has become so severe that some Jamaican hospitals have postponed complex surgeries. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: James Moss-Solomon, the chairman of the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston, says the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are, in his words, poaching Jamaica's most highly trained nurses. And he says these nurses who are being lured abroad were working on wards where it's very hard to replace them.

JAMES MOSS-SOLOMON: Operating theater, intensive care unit, accident and emergency, where nurses are specialized. And this is what the problem is.

BEAUBIEN: Moss-Solomon says the exodus is crippling hospitals across Jamaica. Last week, his hospital was forced to cancel some elective surgeries because they didn't have the staff to handle the procedures. The starting salary for a nurse in Jamaica is less than $8,000 a year. With some specialized training and working overtime, she - and it is almost entirely women - could possibly make up to $20,000 a year on the island. Foreign staffing agencies are offering more than twice that to come to the U.S. or take a job in London.

The head of the Nurses Association of Jamaica, Janet Coore-Farr, says last year, about 200 specialist nurses left the country. Jamaica has roughly 4,500 registered nurses, and about a thousand of them are specialized. Coore-Farr says this hemorrhaging of nursing staff has continued into 2017.

JANET COORE-FARR: We have in one hospital, which is a 500-bed unit, 10 nurses left. And more are leaving. And these nurses are trained in accident and emergency.

BEAUBIEN: Coore-Farr says as more and more nurses leave, the workload gets even heavier for those who stay behind. She says many nurses in Jamaica are now regularly expected to work double shifts, which might make some of them think about taking a job in Phoenix or Toronto.

COORE-FARR: There's no retention strategy for the nurses who are here. And we feel, quite frankly, that nobody cares. So what? If they go, no big thing. But it is - it's a serious problem.

BEAUBIEN: The minister of health, however, says he does recognize what a huge problem the island is facing with the loss of nurses. In the short term, Jamaica is bringing in 25 nurses next month from Cuba to help staff some of their wards. And they have plans to try to recruit nurses from India and the Philippines in what's become a crazy global race to snap up health care professionals. Jason Beaubien, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.