Hospitals to Lean on More Expensive Travel Nurses Even After Covid

Hospitals to Lean on More Expensive Travel Nurses Even After Covid
  • ‘Everybody is searching for more staff,’ association head says
  • U.S. travel-nursing revenue tripled to $12 billion in 6 years

Hospitals are facing a new budget-buster as dependence grows on highly paid travel nurses who are poised to take on a larger role in staffing even after the pandemic threat fades.

Rising rates of hospitalization during the pandemic forced many institutions to increase their use of travel nurses who work on short-term contracts, often for more pay than their full-time counterparts. Now the surge of pent-up demand for non-Covid care along with the departure of many nurses from full-time staff positions is forcing institutions to look far and wide for staffing help.

In New Mexico, where the coronavirus has ravaged health-care systems across the state, hospitals are facing more than $400 million in losses, with almost $250 million of that due to staffing costs, including travel nurses. And the damage will likely grow, according to Troy Clark, chief executive officer of the New Mexico Hospital Association.

“Everybody is searching for more staff, asking your staff to take on longer shifts,” Clark said. “That encourages them to go, ‘If I’m going to do all this work, I might as well go become a traveler and get paid a heck of a lot more.’”

Travel nursing revenue tripled to an estimated $11.8 billion in 2021 from $3.9 billion in 2015, according to research firm Staffing Industry Analysts. Hospitals and health systems say their finances have taken a hit from having to rely on the temporary workers and that there’s no clear fix in sight.

There are more than 5 million nurses in the U.S., of which 4.2 million are registered nurses, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Exhaustion, burnout and other pandemic-related factors have pushed many to leave full-time bedside positions for less stressful jobs in insurance and telehealth, hospital and recruitment executives said. And some are moving to travel nursing for the scheduling flexibility and variety.