Do you need a COVID-19 nurse? That will be $ 8,000 a week

He recalls that his employers told him and his colleagues to “suck in” when they cared for six patients each and patched their protective gear with tape until it completely disintegrated. The $ 800 a week he took home no longer felt worth it.

“I didn’t sleep and I had the most anxiety in my life,” Tripeny said. “I’m like that” I’m going to go where my abilities are needed and it’s guaranteed to have the protection I need. “

In April, he packed his bags on a two-month contract for nurses at the then Covid hotspot in New Jersey, known as “mass emigration,” who left traveling nurses at a Denver suburban hospital. Your new salary? About $ 5,200 a week with a contract that requires proper protective gear.

Months later, the offerings – and the stakes – are even higher for nurses willing to move. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, nurses can earn $ 6,200 a week. He was recently offered more than $ 8,000 a week for a job in Fargo, North Dakota. Some can get up to $ 10,000.

At the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals competed for ventilators, Covid tests, and personal protective equipment. They are now competing for nurses across the country. The fall in Covid cases has turned hospital staff into a kind of national tender war, and hospitals are willing to pay excessive wages to provide the nurses needed. This threatens to divert nursing care to more affluent areas, keep rural and urban public hospitals short-lived as the pandemic worsens, and some hospitals are unable to care for seriously ill patients.
“It’s a huge threat,” said Angelina Salazar, CEO of the Western Healthcare Alliance, a consortium of 29 small hospitals in rural Colorado and Utah. “Under no circumstances can rural hospitals afford to pay such a salary.”

Surge capacity

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Hospitals have long relied on traveling nurses to fill staff gaps without undertaking long-term employment. At the start of the pandemic, doctors and nurses traveled from affected areas to hotspots such as California, Washington State and New York to help with regional tensions. But now that the wave is booming in virtually every part of the country – doctors are infecting this process – the competition for a finite number of available nurses is intensifying.

“We all thought,‘ Well, when it comes to Colorado, we’re going to rely on the same resources; we call the surrounding states and send help, “said Julie Lonborg, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Hospital Association.” Now it’s a national epidemic. It’s not just one or two locations like spring. That’s really significant across the country, which means everyone is looking for those resources. ”

In North Dakota, Tessa Johnson said bounty hunters get more messages on LinkedIn every day. Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, said the epidemic appears to be urging nurses to brainstorm. He suspects more nurses may decide to leave early or retire after North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum told health workers that they could stay in work even if COVID-19 tested positive.

All four of Utah’s major health care systems have seen nurses go to traveling nursing jobs, said Jordan Sorenson, project manager at the Utah Hospital Association.

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“Nurses quit, join traveling nursing companies, and go to another hospital to work on the street, two to three times as much,” she said. “So, it’s really a kind of robber-Peter-salary-Paul staffing situation.”

Hospitals not only offer higher salaries to traveling nurses, but also pay commissions to the traveling nursing agency, Sorenson said. Utah hospitals try to avoid hiring nurses from other hospitals within the state. If taken from a neighboring state like Colorado, it could mean that Colorado hospitals are poaching from Utah.

“Following the current onslaught of COVID hospital care, the designation of the‘ throat ’of the registered nurses’ labor market is underestimated, ”said Adam Seth Litwin, associate professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. “Even if the healthcare sector is somehow able to find more beds, not just go out and buy more cutting-edge caregivers.”

Litwin said he was pleased that the labor market was rewarding core workers with higher wages – disproportionately women and people of color. Under normal circumstances, it allows markets to determine where people work and what salary they are ideal for.

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“On the other hand, we operate under unusual conditions,” he said. “In the midst of a severe public health crisis, I fear that the individual incentives of hospitals on the one hand and individual RNs on the other will sharply conflict with the needs of society as a whole.”

Some hospitals are researching how to overcome staffing challenges without destroying the budget. This may involve changing the ratio of nurse to patient, although this is likely to affect patient care. In Utah, the hospital association has spoken to the state nursing board about allowing nursing students to certify their final year of training early.

Growth industry

Meanwhile, the business is booming for companies focusing on healthcare staff, such as Wanderly and Krucial Staffing.

“When COVID first started and it was the epicenter of New York, we at Wanderly looked at it a bit and said,‘ Okay, it’s time to shine, ’” said David Deane, senior vice president, Wanderly’s health-enabling site. health professionals compare the offers of different agencies. “” It’s time to help nurses get to these destinations as quickly as possible. And help recruiters get to these nurses. “”

Deane said the company has doubled its staff since the epidemic began. Demand is on the rise – Rocky Mountain states appear on the site with up to 20 times as many job postings as in January. And even more are meeting that need.

In 2018, according to a national survey, about 31,000 traveling nurses worked nationwide. Deane estimates there are now at least 50,000 sisters. Deane, who calls the traveling nurses “superheroes,” suspects many of them are postoperative nurses who were fired when their hospital stopped elective surgeries at the time of the first closures.
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The competition for nurses, especially those with ICU experience, is fierce. After all, a South Dakota hospital is not just competing with facilities in other states.

“We sent nurses to Aruba, the Bahamas and Curacao because they needed help managing COVID,” Deane said. “You go there, you’re earning $ 5,000 a week, and all your expenses are paid, right? Who’s not going to say yes?”

Krucial Staffing specializes in sending health workers to disaster sites through military-style logistics. He rented stuffed hotels and dozens of buses to get nurses to hotspots in New York and Texas. CEO Brian Cleary said he has increased the company’s administrative staff from 12 to 200 since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re at the biggest volume right now,” Cleary said, adding that about Halloween weekend alone, about 1,000 sisters joined the list of “reservists”.

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With a base fee of $ 95 per hour, some overtime nurses incur $ 10,000 a week, although there are drawbacks, such as the fact that the concert doesn’t come with health insurance and it’s unstable in a boom-and-bust market.

Hidden costs

Amber Hazard, who lives in Texas, started out as an ICU nurse traveling before the epidemic and said such eye-catching sums come with a hidden fee, paid soberly.

“The effect this has on your soul can’t cost you anything,” she said.

During the first wave of New York, in a well-paying workplace caring for COVID patients, he remembers walking into a break room at a Bronx hospital and saw a sign on the wall stating that regular nurses were on strike.

“He said, you know, ‘That’s not what we’re doing.’ It’s not safe, “Hazard said.” And it wasn’t safe. But someone had to do it. “

The highlight of the incident there was that a wedding ring was placed back on the finger of a healed patient. But Hazard said he fastened far more body bags than rings on patients.

Tripeny, the traveling nurse who left Colorado, is now working in Kentucky with cardiac surgery patients. When the contract expires, you can say that you can return to the care of COVID.

Earlier, in New Jersey, he scared the cases of not being able to provide people with the care they needed, not to mention the occasions when he took a deceased patient off a ventilator and stared at the damage caused by the virus when he removed the tubes full of with blackened blood from the lungs.

Now he has to pay out of pocket for mental health therapy, unlike when he was on the staff of a hospital. But as a so-called traveler, he knows that every concert will be over in weeks.

At the end of each week in New Jersey, he said, “I would just look at my salary and say,‘ Okay. That’s okay. I can do it. “

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a non-profit news service dealing with health issues. Editorially independent program KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.