Travel nurse demand outpacing supply, with hospitals paying steep rates

Hospital Administration

Dive Brief:

  • Traveling nurses are in high demand and short supply amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the staffing firms that recruit them for hospitals.
  • Accordingly, hospitals are dramatically increasing their rates. Average pay packages for ICU travel nurses in November so far hover around $2,246 per week, a nearly 28% increase from 2019’s average rates, according to recruiting firm NurseFly. Some jobs are paying up to $7,000 per week.
  • Aya Healthcare, another staffing firm, reported similar rates for its travel nurses. “We’ve continued to see those rates throughout the crisis be used, and it seems like as the demand continues to increase, costs are remaining at that level and they’re definitely not going back down,” Sophia Morris, VP of account management at Aya, said.

Dive Insight:

The supply of available healthcare workers is dwindling as new COVID-19 hotspots emerge across the U.S., with many exhausted, burnt out or sick with the novel coronavirus themselves.

Demand for travel nurses over the past 30 days at Aya rose 62%, with 27,290 open positions as of Thursday. Thirty percent of currently open positions are considered “crisis” nursing positions.

The exorbitant rates hospitals are now paying for staff are based on a variety of factors, including hours per week and area of specialty. Though some nurses are gravitating toward the highest-paying jobs, many aren’t, Morris said.

“They may be preferring to work at some of the hospitals that might be paying not necessarily top of market, but that have plenty of [personal protective equipment], and that can guarantee that they’re safe,” she said.

Other factors driving where nurses are going and why include how quickly facilities are interviewing, start dates, housing availability and flexibility and ease of an onboarding process.

During the first COVID-19 waves this spring, elective procedure shutdowns spurred massive financial losses for health systems, leading many to institute furloughs or layoffs. That boosted the labor supply overall, with more clinicians available for short-term assignments while emergency rooms and other parts of hospitals largely stood idle.

“Now health systems are balancing their normal operations, including their life-saving and revenue-generating surgical procedures, as well as balancing the strain of an increased census, higher-acuity patients and their staff potentially having to quarantine as well,” Morris said.

Hospitals in dire straits are canceling non-COVID care to free up staff in particular, including Mayo Clinic’s upper Midwest region, where over 900 workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks and 1,500 are currently on work restrictions due to exposures or quarantines, a spokesperson said.

At Cleveland Clinic’s hospitals in Ohio, 880 workers were out due to COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure as of Thursday, according to a spokesperson.

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