US hospitals are in the midst of COVID. affected by a personnel crisis in the care sector

(AP) – The COVID-19 pandemic has created a nursing staff crisis that is forcing many U.S. hospitals to pay top dollar to get the help they need to deal with the rush of patients this summer will.

The problem, say health leaders, is twofold: nurses quit or retire, exhausted or demoralized by the crisis. And many go for lucrative temporary jobs with travel nurses who can pay $ 5,000 or more a week.

It’s got to a point where doctors say, “Maybe I should stop being a doctor and become a nurse,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer at Georgia’s Augusta University Medical Center, who occasionally saw 20 to 30 resignations in a week from nurses taking travel jobs.

“And then we have to pay bonuses to bring employees from another state into our state,” said Coule.

The average salary for a traveling nurse has increased from roughly $ 1,000 to $ 2,000 a week before the pandemic to now $ 3,000 to $ 5,000, said Sophia Morris, vice president of San Diego-based recruitment agency Aya Healthcare. She said Aya had 48,000 traveling nurse vacancies.

At competitor SimpliFi, President James Quick said the hospitals his company works with are seeing unprecedented vacancies.

“Small to medium-sized hospitals generally have dozens of full-time positions and the large health systems have hundreds of full-time positions,” he said.

The salary explosion has made it difficult for hospitals that do not have enough pockets.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly recently complained that the state’s hospitals are at risk of being outbid by other states that pay a “fortune” for nurses. She said Wednesday that several hospitals, including one in Topeka, had open beds but no nurses.

In Kansas City, Missouri, Truman Medical Centers has lost about 10 nurses to travel jobs in the past few days and is looking for travelers to replace them, CEO Charlie Shields said.

He said it was tough to compete with the travel agents who charge hospitals $ 165 to $ 170 an hour per nurse. He said the agencies take a large chunk of it, but he estimates nurses are still charging $ 70 to $ 90 an hour, which is two to three times what the hospital pays its nurses.

“I think people are clearly taking advantage of the demand that is out there,” said Shields. “I hate to use ‘hollowed out’ as a description, but we clearly pay a premium and give people pretty high profit margins.”

In Texas, more than 6,000 travel nurses have flooded the state to aid the surge through a state-sponsored program. But on the same day that 19 of them went to a hospital in the north of the state, 20 other nurses in the same location announced they were leaving for a travel contract, said Carrie Kroll, vice president of the Texas Hospital Association.

“The nurses who didn’t leave, who stayed in their facilities, now see these other people making more money. It offers a tense working environment, ”said Kroll.

The pandemic was in its early stages when Kim Davis, 36, decided to quit an Arkansas hospital job and become a travel nurse. She said she roughly doubled her income in the 14 months she treated patients in intensive care units in Phoenix; San Bernardino, California; and Tampa, Florida.

“I’ve paid off all of my debts since I’ve been traveling. I paid off about $ 50,000 in student loans, ”she said.

Davis said that many of her colleagues are following the same path.

“They’re going to travel because why are you doing the same job for half the pay?” She said. “If you risk your life, you should be compensated.”

Health officials say nurses are bone tired and frustrated when asked to work overtime, yelled at and questioned by members of the community, and dealt with people who have chosen not to get vaccinated or wear a mask.

“Imagine going to work every day and working as hard as you worked before and going out of work and what you see every day is denied in public,” said Julie Hoff, chief nurse executive at OU Health in Oklahoma. “The death you see every day is not honored or recognized.”

Meanwhile, hospitals are being squeezed by the revolving doors of departures and new hires from travel agencies.

Coule cited a recent example of his Georgia hospital hiring a respiratory therapist through an agency to replace an employee who had decided to take a travel job. The replacement came from the same hospital where his respiratory therapist had just gone to work.

“We essentially swapped staff, but at twice the cost,” he said.

Patricia Pittman, director of the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity at George Washington University, said many nurses have still harbored resentment towards their employers since the early stages of the pandemic, in part because they had to work without proper protective equipment.

“The nurses say, ‘Hey, if I’m not treated with respect, I might as well be a travel nurse,'” she said. “‘That way I can work in a hellhole for 13 weeks, but then I can take a few months or three months off and do it all.'”


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas, and Kunzelman from College Park, Maryland.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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