A shortage in America is creating opportunities for wheelchair nurses
Ddespite the obvious dangers, nurses from all over America flocked to New York when the city was first plagued by covid in 2020. As the various waves swept across America, the need for traveling nurses grew as did other states hit hard too. Demand for travel nurses has decreased slightly since then, but is still much higher than before the pandemic. Spending on travel nurses is five times what it was in 2019.
According to the American Hospital Association, hospitals spent a median of 40% of their nurse labor costs on travel nurses in January 2022, compared to only 5% in January 2019. change in staffing it has seen in the two decades of research his The future of travel nurses is one of the biggest questions facing the healthcare industry, says John August, director of healthcare labor relations at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. It is also a wonderful opportunity for wheelchair nurses.
Traveling nurses are paid much more than staff nurses doing the same work in the same hospital, to offset the inconvenience of leaving home. Nora Cruz, for example, is based in Florida, but currently works in Iowa. There are passengers in the entire medical facility, she says. Before covid, many adventurous types were drawn to travel nursing, happy to stay a few weeks or months in another city or state and move on. One intensive care nurse interviewed for this story likes to work in Denver hospitals in the winter so he can ski.
The pandemic changed things. Wages rose, partly to compensate for suddenly more dangerous conditions. Thanks in part to federal covid relief funding, traveling nurse staffing groups increased the hourly rates they billed hospitals by more than 200%. At peak demand, some travel nurses earned as much as $10,000 a week. Salaries have decreased since then, but are still high. According to Vivian Health, the average weekly salary for a travel nurse in South Dakota is nearly three times higher than the average weekly salary for a staff nurse of $1,164.
But within the set of travel nurses, there is a solid subset that makes even more money. An estimated 100,000 nurses left bedside care in 2021. Burned out by the punishing nature of covid care, many staff nurses resigned. Others chose less demanding jobs, such as school nurses or working for insurance companies. Nurses who are still on the job are tired. They felt that hospitals did not value them. Tony Braswell, head of Gale Healthcare Solutions, an employee group, says they’re not just burned out, they’re broke. They have been harassed by payparts with.
As a result, earlier this month 7,000 nurses in two New York City hospitals went on strike for three days. Darla Joiner, a nurse who served on the union’s grievance committee, says she almost became a traveling nurse last year, after six of her colleagues quit. Before the strike, she said to herself, “I’m so upset right now I can’t keep working like this. We have been working very little for a long time.” This also creates an opportunity. Enter the striking nurses, who are among the best paid, making thousands of dollars a day.
Ms. Cruz, in Iowa by way of Florida, became a travel nurse last year. She was drawn to the versatility as well as the money. She likes to be in control of her schedule. But she has four children under the age of five that she leaves behind in Florida. Finding accommodation for short periods is not easy either. Sometimes landlords raise the rent when they find out that she is a traveling nurse. She lives mostly in a RV when she is in office.
More hospitals, realizing labor costs, are outsourcing hiring and payroll. Workers’ groups, meanwhile, are learning about technology. Aya Healthcare has created an Uber-like platform for nurses and hospitals to connect foot workers to work. Technical staffing companies have also begun placing travel nurses. Nursing, in other words, is becoming part of the gig economy.■
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