Nurses Require 3 Commitments From Hospitals to Return to Work
When the new coronavirus started to circulate in the U.S., hospitals mainly relied on travel nurses. Unprecedented demand caused rates to skyrocket, luring many staff nurses who may not have considered travel nursing to take the plunge. According to information from Staffing Industry Analysts reported by NBC News, the number of travel nurses jumped from 50,000 to at least 100,000 between January and March 2020. According to data from employment agency Aya Healthcare, demand for travel nurses decreased by 42% between January and July of this year. Along with a decline in demand comes a decline in income, even if travel costs are still greater than they were before the outbreak.
Some travel nurses who quit their full-time hospital positions during the pandemic have no intention of coming back, asserting that any adjustments hospitals might make to entice them back would be outweighed by the better compensation and more flexible scheduling provided by contract assignments.
However, a portion of the reachable nurses claims they would think about going back to working at the bedside full-time if hospitals provided specific assurances like an increase in patient safety, personnel, and pay.
Naturally, full-time nurses who left for travel work would be persuaded to return by higher remuneration. However, there are still large salary disparities between temporary contracts and staff nurses. According to NBC, travel nurses made an average of $125 per hour in 2021, according to Staffing Industry Analysts. According to information from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, that is over three times the hourly rate of a staff nurse.
During the epidemic, Pamela Esmond, RN, 59, of northern Illinois, started working as a travel nurse. She revealed to NBC News on September 3 that in order to afford retirement, she intends to continue working as a travel nurse until she turns 65.
“The reality is they don’t pay staff nurses enough, and if they would pay staff nurses enough, we wouldn’t have this problem,” Ms. Esmond said. I would love to go back to staff nursing, but on my staff job, I would never be able to retire.”
Working at Walmart helped Shauna Painter, RN, ADN, pay for nursing school. She claimed that after a while, she came to the conclusion that a store manager would pay more than a “well trained ICU nurse.”
Ms. Painter worked as a staff nurse for more than six years before deciding to transition to travel nursing when the epidemic started about two and a half years ago. She said that she was living “paycheck to paycheck” while working in the conventional healthcare system.
The request, however, is more difficult for hospitals. According to health systems, paying full-time staff nurses the salary intended for temporary assignments was not something they could routinely afford. According to Chief Human Resource Officer at Pittsburgh-based UPMC John Galley, salaries and benefits account for almost half of all operating costs for a health facility.
Travel nurses claim that hospitals would need to provide more schedule flexibility in addition to increased pay to get them back.
In addition to increased pay, travel nurses find that they are able to have better control over their schedules. For example, if a travel nurse were to have pregnancy complications during her pregnancy or needed to take more time off for her newborn baby post-pregnancy, she would have the freedom to do so without any fear of losing her job or experiencing restrictions of any kind.
Travel nurses have voiced concern over nurse-to-patient ratios in traditional healthcare settings. They feel that too many patients are cared for at once due to ongoing labor shortages, which can be dangerous for patients.
“Most staff nurses are taking 5 or 6 patients in med-surg units, which is understandable given the nursing shortage, but it means that staff nurses are often working long hours without any breaks,” said Ms. Painter. “It also means that in some cases, patients are not receiving the adequate time with their nurses that they deserve.”
Intensive care units must maintain a ratio of 1:2 while hospital wards must maintain a ratio of 1 nurse for every 5 patients. California is currently the only state to have successfully passed legislation governing nurse-to-patient ratios.
“Travel nurses are often assigned fewer patients,” said Ms. Painter. “So as a traveler, I am able to focus more on the patient than the traditional staff nurse who is overextended.”
Travel nurse contracts are typically 13 weeks long, which allows travel nurses to decide if the environment is safe for them and suits their needs as well as the patients’ needs.
Considering all of this, hospitals and health systems have boosted salaries, given bonuses, and made other investments to keep staff members on board. However, there is still a significant pay discrepancy between hospital employees and travel or agency nurses.
Some health systems have established their own travel agencies, such as CommonSpirit and UPMC, where travel nurses work within the system to counteract the growing expense of travel nursing.
UPMC’s internal agency pays nurses and surgical techs $85 per hour and $63 per hour, respectively, in addition to a $2,880 stipend at the start of each six-week assignment.
Because the work has its own unique obstacles, travel nurses at UPMC are still paid more than full-time personnel. Travel nurses are continuously moving, in contrast to full-time nurses who become familiar with their workplaces and have a more consistent routine.
According to Dr. Sanford of CommonSpirit, the scheme will be advantageous since it will reduce competition and allow people who wish to travel to continue working in the healthcare industry.
Similar programs are being explored by other systems, like Charlotte, North Carolina-based Atrium Health, which just finished a trial in-house traveler program. The health system has also utilized outside agencies, which cost around three times as much as they did prior to the outbreak.