At first glance, for-profit hospitals appear more stingy than not-for-profits when it comes to registered nurses' pay, according to a new comparison from the U.S. Labor Department.
The average hourly pay for a full-time RN in 2003 was $25.32 at investor-owned hospitals and $27.01 at not-for-profit hospitals, the Bureau of Labor Statistics report said.
Yet the $1.69 difference may not be all that significant, said hospital recruiters and industry insiders.
For one thing, wages vary across the U.S. by market, and the Labor Department's report did not take geographic differences into account, said Caroline Steinberg, the American Hospital Association's vice president of trends analysis. "Wages tend to be lower in Texas than New York," she said.
In fact, Lone Star State nurses earned an average of $24.53 per hour last year, roughly $4.60 less than New York nurses, the bureau's figures show.
For-profit hospitals may also be concentrated in states with lower wages, Steinberg said. Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas had the greatest number of for-profit hospitals in 2003, the most recent year available from the AHA. Of those states, only California's average hourly wage for all workers, $19.96, surpassed the U.S. average, $17.86, last year.
Even if the gap does exist in local markets, employers can compete on more than hourly wages, said Ann Bures, president of the National Association for Health Care Recruiters. Bures is a nurse and employment manager at 356-bed St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Md., a not-for-profit hospital owned by Catholic Health Initiatives. Health and retirement benefits, paid time off or bonuses factor into job candidates' decisions, as well as intangibles, such as culture, workloads or the quality of hospitals' technology, she said.
The survey included 252 for-profit hospitals, 795 not-for-profit hospitals and 259 government hospitals. Public hospitals paid full-time nurses an average hourly wage similar to for-profit employers, $25.22.
The average hourly rate for a for-profit hospital employee was $19.21, compared with $20.20 at not-for-profit hospitals.
The gap disappeared, however, when economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics examined part-time pay. Part-time registered nurses earned $27.02 at investor-owned hospitals and $27.06 at tax-exempt hospitals.
Jean Ann Seago, an associate professor at the University of California at San Francisco School of Nursing and the Center for California Health Workforce Studies, said she was not surprised by the report, nor did she believe its findings mean for-profit hospitals are at a disadvantage when recruiting.
Hospitals compete for nurses who often seek work within commuting distance from school or home, said Seago, a nurse who co-authored a June study that found California will need another 99,900 to 122,200 nurses by 2030. "You're going to pay whatever it takes to get and keep nurses in your market," she said.