COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hospital staffing levels are improving as COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States hit record highs, and the trend is reflected in lower wages for traveling nurses who have secured lucrative contracts during previous peak periods.
What do you want to know
- Travel nurse contracts are getting less lucrative
- Staffing levels are improving at hospitals, officials said
- Lawmakers consider post-COVID nursing legislation
Justine Offutt, 36, an ER nurse in northeast Ohio, said she quit her job as an ER nurse and moved into travel nursing about a year ago. year to earn higher wages through travel contracts, ranging from $90 to $115 an hour at the peaks of the pandemic.
“They were paying ‘crisis rates.’ That’s what they called them,” she said. “But it’s slowed down when it comes to COVID, and so the need isn’t necessarily as great.”
Fares have come down as the omicron has dwindled, but Offutt said she plans to continue taking travel contracts as the jobs remain more attractive than permanent positions. She said hospitals are essentially bleeding money on travel nurses, but many facilities don’t have enough permanent staff to move away from travel nurses altogether.
Dr. Andrew Thomas, clinical director of Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, explained that nursing staffing issues persist. Older nurses have retired or left the bedside, pushed by the stress of COVID-19, and permanent nurses have transitioned to itinerant nursing, he told reporters last week.
“Frankly, some have turned to the travel side of the business because there have been pockets of the country and certainly pockets in our state that have had to bring in temporary staff,” he said. “I think it’s often the young people who have the freedom to be able to move to another city for three months. They may not be related to family, children or other things, and the salary for these jobs has been high enough to fill these gaps.
Thomas expects some travel nurses to return to permanent positions in the coming months, with highly lucrative travel contracts mostly becoming a thing of the past.
“I think some of that is going to start to cool off. I think some people are going to hopefully get back to their routine work, and we’re also working really hard – everyone who’s here as travelers that we’ve brought, we’re trying to make sure they understand the benefits of worked here. Maybe they will enroll permanently,” he said.
Offutt said travel nurses are reluctant to work permanently for hospitals. They feel they have been overworked and underpaid during the pandemic, she said.
“They intentionally understaffed nurses because the less they pay for the work, the higher the output. They can get away with saying, “Nurse Suzie, instead of taking her typical two patients, oh, we’re going to add one more.” And it’s been like that for a while and it’s getting worse and worse,” she said. “It all piled up and we’re sick and we’re tired.”
Tammy Reno, 51, a nurse who worked at the bedside in the Cincinnati area on a medical floor when COVID-19 hit, said she quit her job in late 2020 when pressure on nurses to working overtime and caring for an unsustainable nurse patient ratios have become too high.
“We had to sign up for overtime, and if we canceled for overtime, it was against our attendance, so we were expected to do that so we didn’t have bad patient ratios, but they said if nobody signed up we could potentially have seven, eight, nine patients, which is totally dangerous,” she said.
She transitioned into Case Management Nursing and is currently working in Toledo on a Case Management Travel Nurse assignment. Reno expects his next contract to pay less due to the improved roster.
Congressman Tim Ryan (D), who is running for the Senate, joined as a co-sponsor last month on a bill that would establish minimums for nurse-patient ratios, he said in a statement to Spectrum News.
“Our nurses and healthcare workers have done the unimaginable throughout this pandemic, working harder than ever to keep our communities alive,” Ryan said. “Even before this pandemic, our nurses were exhausted, providing life-saving care to their patients. As we rebuild after COVID-19, we must work to ease the pressures on our nurses by passing legislation requiring nurse-patient ratios. Safe staffing standards not only protect our nurses, but ensure better and more focused care for their patients.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) introduced similar legislation in the Senate in May 2021.
Lawmakers are also considering changes in travel nursing. A bipartisan group of nearly 200 House members sent a letter to the White House earlier this year asking federal competition and consumer protection agencies “to investigate potentially anticompetitive activity by certain nursing agencies” which resulted in costs for hospitals “much higher than pre-pandemic rates.
Additionally, some opportunities are closing for travel nurses because states are ending emergency protocols that allowed out-of-state nurses to obtain a waiver exempting them from obtaining the nurse’s license. for the state they were traveling to, Offutt said.
In January 2023, Ohio will join a multi-state licensing pact of dozens of states giving nurses the ability to move.