The COVID-19 pandemic has created a nurse staffing crisis that is forcing many U.S. hospitals to pay top dollar to get the help they need to handle the crush of patients this summer.
The problem, health leaders say, is twofold: Nurses are quitting or retiring, exhausted or demoralized by the crisis. And many are leaving for lucrative temporary jobs with traveling-nurse agencies that can pay $5,000 or more a week. It’s gotten to the point where doctors are saying, “Maybe I should quit being a doctor and go be a nurse,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer at Georgia’s Augusta University Medical Center, which has on occasion seen 20 to 30 resignations in a week from nurses taking traveling jobs.
“And then we have to pay premium rates to get staff from another state to come to our state,” Coule said.
The average pay for a traveling nurse has soared from roughly $1,000 to $2,000 per week before the pandemic to $3,000 to $5,000 now, said Sophia Morris, a vice president at San Diego-based health care staffing firm Aya Healthcare.
She said Aya has 48,000 openings for traveling nurses to fill. At competitor SimpliFi, President James Quick said the hospitals his company works with are seeing unprecedented levels of vacancies.
“Small to medium-sized hospitals generally have dozens of full-time openings, and the large health systems have hundreds of full-time openings,” he said.
The explosion in pay has made it hard on hospitals without deep enough pockets.
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