A North Island rest home has sent a begging letter to residents and their families offering a $500 gift card to anyone who can find a nurse to work there, amid nation-wide nursing shortages.

One family told RNZ they were shocked to see the offer.

Enliven Central general manager Nicola Turner said they were desperate for nurses but were not getting applications through traditional advertising.

In a letter, seen by RNZ, Enliven offered a $500 gift card to any family member of a resident who could find a suitable nurse willing to work at one of the resthomes. Turner said they had never done anything like this before and it was a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures.

"We are getting no applicants for our traditional ads. At the moment it's just not working. So we've got to think of any creative ideas that we can to encourage people to apply for our positions," Turner said.

Enliven runs 14 resthomes across the North Island along with hospital units. The impact of shortages in Wellington and New Plymouth has seen the aged care provider relocate some residents in need of hospital-level care to other homes until they can recruit more nurses.

"It's very, very desperate," Turner said.

There are terms and conditions around receiving the $500 gift card: the nurse has to work at Enliven for six months before it is handed out.

"They need to stay working for six months so that we don't get somebody who signs on and then leaves a week later. Then the person who introduces them gets the Prezzy Card," Turner said.

The family of one Enliven resident, who RNZ has agreed not to identify, was astonished at the offer.

''We were pretty shocked to see that it's got to the point where you are almost offering a bribe to find nurses for their rest home,'' they said.

"It brought home how tough it must be to find nurses. I'm a bit torn as to whether it's a bad sign or whether they are just being innovative."

NZ Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said Enliven's offer of a $500 bounty pointed to a sector-wide crisis with aged care short of more than a thousand nurses.

"Aged care providers all over the country are absolutely desperate to find nurses and they will do what they can to achieve that," he said.

Wallace said it was possible cash rewards could become more widely used.

"We may very well see other providers using these sorts of recruitment practices to find staff. This is the situation that they're in. And we will also see more closures unless we can find staff as well," Wallace said.

Turner said while families had responded positively to the gift card reward, which has been on offer for a couple of months, it had not yet resulted in any nurses being recruited.

"Talking to our families at the moment, they're all busy thinking of who they know... So certainly it's raised a lot of conversation. What we haven't seen yet is any nurses," she said.

Enliven is also recruiting abroad and has been offering all staff $250 if they bring in a new worker.