As the pandemic nears the one-year mark, healthcare providers still struggle to find travel nurses to handle the surge of COVID-19 patients.
And those workers come at a price, with the competition for nurses doubling or even tripling normal pay rates, meaning wealthier hospitals can woo a disproportionate number of nurses.
Staffing agencies said the demand they’re seeing is unprecedented in their company histories. “The industry has never seen demand like this,” said April Hansen, executive vice president of the staffing firm Aya Healthcare. “This is new territory for everyone.”
Demand for travel nurses has been on a near-constant climb since September when there was an average of 12,800 job openings. Since then, the number of openings rose 239% to 30,880 on Jan. 4, according to Aya Healthcare data.
Providers say it’s a challenge to compete financially for staff but agencies say demand is driving cost and nurses need to be compensated for the risks they’re taking.
Freedom Healthcare Staffing has added staff to handle the increased demand, attracting personnel by offering protections in their contracts, said Susan Whitman, the company’s executive vice president and co-founder. Because workers are often being sent to areas with COVID-19 outbreaks, if they test positive for the virus and need to quarantine, their salary is contractually covered, Whitman said.
“It’s not fair for a healthcare professional to go out and risk their health without protecting them as well,” she said. “It’s well-earned compensation right now.”
In some cases, pay rates are double. Workers also can receive health insurance, car allowances and scrubs reimbursement, she said.
“I think there’s no secret that a lot of healthcare workers may be leaving their permanent employment to join a traveling association like Freedom. Compensation is really attractive,” Whitman said, but added that money is not the primary motivator. “Even though the work is mentally very taxing right now, emotionally very draining, there’s still a huge reward for being on the front line and giving assistance.”