Coronavirus drives up demand - and pay - for temporary U.S. nurses
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[March 21, 2020]
By Deena Beasley
(Reuters) - U.S. hospitals, bracing for a
surge of coronavirus patients just as some staff are under quarantine
after being exposed to the virus, are facing a shortage of temporary
nurses who can fill in - and being asked to pay as much as double to
make it worth it. So-called "travel nurses" total around 50,000 - or
less than one percent of the nursing workforce - which represents an
increase in recent years as the U.S. population ages, demand increases
and workers seek more flexible employment options.
With the coronavirus outbreak escalating every day, the need for
temporary nurses is growing exponentially throughout the United States.
But an "unprecedented number" are backing out of assignments because
they do not want to travel in the midst of the crisis, said Alan Braynin,
chief executive at staffing firm Aya Healthcare.
As staffing agencies have raised pay demands for temporary nurses still
willing to accept assignments, some hospitals are leaning on their
existing staff to help out - at least for now.
"A lot of hospitals have closed down other units, and scrambled staff to
triage patients coming in for testing and for other purposes," Braynin
Hospitals in New York and Connecticut are seeking to fill hundreds of
temporary nursing positions, said Dan Weber, head of clinical innovation
at staffing firm Trusted Health.
"Washington state has been in crisis for a while. We continue to see an
uptick there in emergency room and now clinic jobs - they need people to
staff things like phone trees and triage centers," Weber said.
Some pay packages, which include a housing stipend, have more than
doubled, with rates at the top of the market reaching $5,000 a week,
although most are in the $3,000-$4,000 per week range, he said.
More than 18,000 people in the United States have tested positive for
the coronavirus since early this year, upending daily life and prompting
New York, Illinois and California to tell tens of millions of people to
stay at home. The virus first appeared in China in December and has
sickened more than 250,000 people around the globe.
InterActive Corp's <IAC.O> temporary healthcare staffing unit NurseFly
said it has seen an unprecedented surge in demand for positions related
to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. It said
emergency department specialists can now command compensation of upwards
of $4,000 per week.
[to top of second column]
Nurses wait for a patient in a car to pull forward to be tested for
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a drive-through testing site in a
parking lot at the University of Washington's Northwest Outpatient
Medical Center, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 18, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder
Some hospitals likened the pay increases to the kind of
price-gouging that is illegal in some states during times of public
"The thing that is very distressing to us and to other hospitals is
that these agencies are demanding exorbitant rates," said Dr.
Stephanie Hall, chief medical officer at Keck Medicine of the
University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Aya CEO Braynin conceded: "There are firms that are charging too
The nurses are coming under unusual strains, however.
A travel nurse is typically contracted under 13-week agreements, and
hospitals are now asking to extend many existing contracts, said
Weber at Trusted Health. Nurses starting new contracts also need to
take drug tests and undergo background checks.
Trusted Health said it is starting to hear reports from clients that
landlords, including at temporary Airbnb units, are refusing to rent
to nurses and other medical professionals. "We have one nurse in
Washington who was told by her landlord that she has to scrub the
washing machine with Clorox after every load or she will be
evicted," Weber said.
USC has not had any patients test positive for the coronavirus, but
staffing levels, especially at its intensive care unit, have been
affected by the fact that some employees, and their contacts, are on
quarantine for at least 14 days after being exposed to the virus
outside of the hospital.
Training is now underway to make sure medical residents - doctors in
training - can fill in for nurses. "We are training our surgical
residents to be able to step in," said Dr. Kenji Inaba, director of
USC's general surgery program. "If in a week or two from now we end
up with a massive loss of critical care nursing staff, we won't have
the ability to teach others to handle the work."
(Reporting By Deena Beasley; Editing by Caroline Humer and Sonya
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