High demand means high pay for busy travel nurses

Nurses are the foot soldiers in the fight against COVID-19, and they are in high demand. Now, staffing agencies are luring many of them away from their local jobs, with offers too good to turn down.

It was an issue first brought up by Governor DeSantis Wednesday.

"You could have a nurse who’s working for a hospital and they could actually get hired by some staffing agency for more, and basically doing the same job," DeSantis said.

In a meeting with Florida hospital CEOs, Carlos Migoya with Miami’s Jackson Health System called it a "huge challenge."

"We’re seeing a lot of our nurses taking temp jobs where they’re going around the country where they’re getting two or three times what they get paid," Migoya said.

According to Fastaff, a travel nurse recruiter, current opportunities in ICUs across the country have weekly salaries listed of up to $6,000 a week.

With nurses working overtime from an influx of COVID cases, many hospitals are dependent on traveling nurses.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital tells us they currently have 41 traveling RNs, with 25 more on the way. Typically, they have less than a dozen this time of year.

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Sommer Jones, a travel nurse who was based in Tampa at the height of coronavirus in 2020, says first and foremost, the problem is staffing.

"With an uptick in COVID cases, it’s a hazardous work environment in addition to being understaffed for the number of patients and their acuity," she said in an e-mail. "The house staff is usually overworked and exhausted.  No one wants to willingly leave home for a base pay."

Jones went on to say that most travel nurses are working at least 48-hour work-weeks for six to 13 weeks on the increased pay. Many travel nurse agencies include a stipend in the pay, which is for housing, travel, and meals.

"Elevated pay rates are great, but they certainly come at great costs as well," she said.

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Migoya says they’re going to nursing schools for a long-term solution.

"We’re working with the schools, by the way, longer term, to accept as many people as possible to the nursing schools because there’s a lot of people who want to be in the health care side. That’s a longer-term answer."

Shorter-term are the incentives for even non-traveling nurses. Advent Health is aggressively recruiting talent with seasonal contracts and up to $35,000 in bonuses.

But until this "tug of war" staffing game ends, Migoya believes hospitals will continue to be strained.

"If we’re pushing from one side to another, we’re just putting pressure on staffing throughout the country. And that is a really big challenge that we’re dealing with, and the only thing we can hope for is this surge that’s going on peaks out of here really soon."