Never before have nurses been more needed than in the age of COVID-19. Hospitals are feeling the pinch of being short staffed but staffing companies are coming to their rescue.
One such company is Medical Solutions based in in Omaha, Nebraska, but which has offices all over the United States. It supplies hospitals with nurses and other health professionals such as respiratory therapists.
It all comes down to supply and demand, said Holly Bass, vice president of recruiting for Medical Solutions, who is based in Jacksonville, Florida.
“The supply hasn’t changed,” she said. “There is a very large portion of baby boomer nurses who are retiring. The demand will always be there.”
Traveling nurses is not a new concept; it began back in the 1970s, she said. There is always going to be need in areas like the emergency room and intensive care units.
“There are about 50,000 traveling nurses nationwide,” she said. “They come from all walks of life and from different areas of the country and have different specialties.”
Bass explained that the typical traveling nurse will take an assignment for 13 weeks and, depending on their personal goals or needs, will opt to extend their contract or will move on to another area. She said the profile of a traveling nurse will vary, but mostly they are single people who like to travel to “see new places and meet new people.”
Not all traveling nurses perform the same duties and as such salaries will differ. For instance, a travel nurse practitioner is the highest paid, with an average annual salary of $107,540 per year, while a travel licensed practical nurse may earn less than half that, with an average salary of $47,980 per year.
Benefits to hospitals are cost effectiveness and time, Bass said. She explained that hospital human resource departments could save time because the nurse is an employee of a staffing agency, and the agency handles HR paperwork and payroll.
“Plus, charge nurses are sometimes responsible for hiring other nurses,” she said. “This helps them go on with their jobs of caring for patients instead of going through stacks of applications and resumes.”
Benefits of Being a Traveling Nurse
Aside from the salaries, travel nurses may receive a package including several other benefits that provide additional value. These include but are not limited to insurance coverage, retirement (401K) options and tax-free travel reimbursement.
Depending on the agency some will offer sign-on, completion, and retention bonuses. A sign-on bonus is provided when you agree to an assignment, a completion bonus is provided when the assignment is over, and a retention bonus may be provided to entice you to continue to take assignments through a particular company.
There are also free housing or housing stipends depending on the agency. These may include only housing during long-term assignments, but in some cases, could also include an apartment in the city of your primary residence.
Because travel nurses must be licensed in order to practice in all 50 states, their employers will provide them with access to free continuing education (CEUs) to help ensure they have met their licensure requirements.
If a nurse does not have the time to sit down and research all their options, they can elect to contact someone who does that for them.
Angela Hancock, spokesperson for RNVIP, based in Naples, Florida, said it her company provides nurses with direct access to travel nurse employment companies. She explained that her company will do all the research for the nurse because they “simply do not have the time to sit down on a computer and do research.”
“We compile all of the research for them,” she said. “They then come to us and we present them with all of the information that will answer their questions so they can make a decision on what is the right fit for them.”
Hancock also agreed that there is no shortage of nurses, “but the demand is high,” she said.
According to Hancock the pandemic has caused a high demand, not just for nurses she said but allied therapy as well.
“When you think about it, COVID affects the lungs,” she said. “That’s where the allied therapists come in and we are seeing a trend in demand in these areas.”
Jennifer Gross, an RN at a Charlotte County, Florida, hospice facility that she did not wish to name, said that she has seen several trends in nursing for some time, but three stand out to her.
One of those includes hospitals looking at ways to cut their budgets.
“Before the pandemic hospitals were looking at ways to save money so they designed early retirement packages to the baby boomer, and a lot of them took them up on it,” Gross said.
She said that some hospitals just can’t compete with the salaries of the travel nurse industry.
“They work 13 weeks and make in 13 weeks what they could make in six months to a year,” she said. “When their contract is up they take a month off before taking the next assignment.”
Some hospitals are terminating their nurses as well as other personnel if they do not want to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“If a nurse tells you they do not want the shot,” she said, “you had better listen to them. We do not know what the implications are going to be years down the road.”
Gross said that if her facility requires her to get the shot she may have to look at something else as she said she won’t stray from her principles.
South Florida Feeling the Pinch
A webinar was conducted in May between health care providers who are seeing staffing shortages.
“To begin with, the stress of working in health care for the past 15 or 20 years has become quite untenable,” Dr. Andrew Grose, an orthopedic Surgeon said. “The pandemic is just the spark on an already dry haystack.”
He went on to say that the combination of on-the-job stress and the added burden of the COVID-19 pandemic have been overwhelming and are pushing nurses either out of Florida to a better work environment, more lucrative opportunities, or out of the profession entirely.
Richard Doss, senior vice president of LifeWings Peak Performance, a company that specializes in safety practices for hospitals and other medical facilities, estimated that 300 to 500 nurses and longtime trained staff have been lost “to other states.”
“There are massive incentives for these health care professionals to leave,” Doss said. “Other states are preying on South Florida and getting nurses, lab workers, and respiratory therapists to relocate for three months’ work for triple pay, and take the rest of the year off.”
Grose agreed that on-the-job stress and competitive pay explain a few reasons why facilities across the county are losing nurses, but said there is also a “communication disconnect” between frontline workers and administration.
“The frontline workers know a lot about the work and need to be listened to,” Grose said. “Leaders know about the organizational stuff and budgeting, but they have to listen to their workers.”