Allegheny Health Network, headquartered in Pittsburgh, formed its internal staffing team toward the end of 2022, after 600 nurses left during the pandemic. Most of them went to work for external staffing agencies, said Claire Zangerle, chief nurse executive.
To recruit for the internal team, company leadership connected with current employees and made calls to former ones, explaining how the team offers short-term travel assignments, travel reimbursement, health insurance and other benefits, she said.
The system’s internal staffing team can be called upon for medical, surgical and telemetry needs; intensive care support; and to fill in at the emergency department. Every six weeks, the nurses in the staffing pool move on to a different Allegheny Health facility. They are given a full day to navigate hospitals’ various Epic charting systems and learn how to use the technology.
The full integration of mobile nurses into the hospital culture is key, Zangerle said.
“There is a connotation around agency nurses that they are not invested in the organization,” she said. “That they come in, they do their job, they leave and they have a negative impact on the culture. We didn’t want our internal staffing team to have that same connotation. We wanted this team to be seen as our SWAT team.”
System leadership has started to consider opportunities for expansion. Allegheny Health has hired a director and coordinator to manage and schedule the internal team of nearly 200 float nurses, while pulling a nurse educator from one of its 14 hospitals to assist with onboarding.
“We have to be careful about increasing the numbers too great, because once you start this, you can’t take candy away from a baby,” Zangerle said. “[Nurses] are used to being on this team. They’re used to the rate they’re being paid, which is more than an average staff nurse.”
Zangerle declined to disclose how much nurses in the float pool are paid, compared with non-mobile staff nurses. The system conducts regular market reviews of compensation to ensure both float pool and staff nurses are paid adequately and asks for feedback on salary amounts on employee engagement surveys, she said.
Since establishing the team, the organization has saved around $1.5 million in labor costs, Zangerle said. In the past several weeks, the health system has let various contracts expire with outside agencies, reducing its external labor pool by 30 individuals.
When asked whether changing agency rates could affect the float pool strategy, Zangerle said the focus has always been to reduce external contracts.
“Our first strategy is to decrease agency [contracts] as we see an increase in permanent hires; secondary to that, we will increase the internal staffing team as needed,” she said.