Hospital staffing needs varies with patient loads, time of year, time of the week and time of the day. For instance, flu season may find more frail seniors hospitalized with nursing needs. Nurses who are hospital employees may get priority assignments for day shifts during the week. It is harder to find nurses willing to work evenings and weekends unless they are compensated higher for undesirable shifts.
It is common for hospitals to use nurse staffing agencies, sometimes called “rent-a-nurse” to fill shifts when needed. The downside is temp agency nurses costs more per hour than staff nurses who are hospital employees. During times when nurses are in short supply, as was the case with Covid, nurses are in such high demand they can safely work for staffing agencies knowing they will have plenty of work and higher pay.
Traveling nurses are nurses willing to relocate temporarily to fill staffing needs in hospitals that are unable to hire nurses locally. During Covid outbreaks it became a lucrative way for nurses to earn extra money. In January of 2019 the demand for traveling nurses was about 6,000 open travel nursing positions. However, during the peak Delta variant surge in October 2021, there were approximately 50,000 travel nurses working out of town at hospitals far from home. See image here.
She remembers her employers telling her and her colleagues to “suck it up” as they struggled to care for six patients each and patched their protective gear with tape until it fully fell apart. The $800 or so a week she took home no longer felt worth it.
Tripeny left her suburban Denver employer for a 2-month contract in New Jersey paying $5,200 a week, that promised better protective equipment.
Months later, the offerings — and the stakes — are even higher for nurses willing to move. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, nurses can make more than $6,200 a week. A recent posting for a job in Fargo, North Dakota, offered more than $8,000 a week. Some can get as much as $10,000.
Pay for a registered nurse on a hospital staff varies based on numerous criteria, but $1,000 a week would not be an uncommon salary in many areas. During the Covid surge weekly pay for those willing to travel skyrocketed but is currently averaging $3,100.
Hospitals are loath to compete for nursing labor by raising pay. Years ago, I worked as an accountant in a hospital. I was in a budget meeting when a senior vice president mentioned in passing that he got a heated phone call from an executive at another Dallas hospital. The executive was chastising him for raising nurses’ starting pay, accusing him of trying to “poach” the other hospital’s nurses. Poach? Seriously? There was apparently an unwritten rule that the area hospitals could not offer higher pay to entice another hospital ’s nurses to jump ship. Again, a quote from Kaiser Heath News:
Utah hospitals are trying to avoid hiring away nurses from other hospitals within the state. Hiring from a neighboring state like Colorado, though, could mean Colorado hospitals would poach from Utah.
I stand corrected. Competing for nurses by offering higher pay is poaching, not compensating them fairly. Hospitals can rest easy now. The demand for traveling nurses has taken a nosedive and salaries are falling.