Amid national nursing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, some Florida hospitals feel threatened by temporary nursing agencies recruiting travel nurses for out-of-state jobs, often offering a salary higher than Florida.
With more nurses in the state choosing to take itinerant positions elsewhere through temporary nursing agencies, Florida hospital systems have indicated ways to keep nurses long-term. This would include virtual nursing or what’s known as team nursing, among other strategies, according to Florida hospital executives.
Lawmakers this week began committee meetings leading up to the January 2022 legislative session, and hospitals and healthcare workers have been on the radar during those hearings.
Overall, the demand for nurses and other healthcare workers has increased during the global pandemic, as the more contagious Delta variant continues to circulate.
The American Nurses Association said in a report that the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics “forecasts the need for 1.1 million new registered nurses” nationwide by 2022, in response to “the expansion and replacement of retirees and to avoid a shortage of nurses “.
But healthcare unions have argued that staff shortages aren’t necessarily what’s happening – they say nurses refuse to work in dangerous healthcare environments.
Meanwhile, travel nurses have become more popular, working under contract in hospitals and other health care facilities, taking on short-term roles and being employed by independent nursing staffing agencies, according to nurse. .org.
Hospital leaders from two different committee meetings at Florida House this week discussed challenges involving nurses leaving for travel nursing jobs in other states. And they cited general personnel concerns even before the pandemic.
John Couris, president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, told the House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee that the situation is straining hospital systems.
“When these nurses go on a trip – and I don’t blame them for that, they have student loans to pay off, they have bills to pay, and they look for an opportunity to deal with bills and student loans – when they travel, it puts enormous pressure on our ability to take care of people, ”said Couris.
“In my opinion, this has to stop. We need help, ”he added.
However, travel nurses working in Florida receive a higher salary, according to another Florida hospital executive.
Tom VanOsdol, president and CEO of Ascension Florida, told the legislative committee meeting that the hospital system is hiring more travel nurses who are paid at much higher hourly rates.
“For the same reasons that are behind the nursing shortages… we have now had to hire over 350 itinerant nurses in our market,” he said. “We have not been able to bring our nurses from Ascension Markets to Florida like we were in 2020 due to the length of time it takes to apply for licensure in Florida. So now we pay these nurses five to six times our regular hourly rate. “
Dr. Neil Finkler, clinical director of AdventHealth’s Central Florida division, told state lawmakers at Florida House that COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem, leading to heightened awareness of solutions to retain more nurses in long term.
“Before COVID, we were challenged when it comes to our nursing care and, quite frankly, all of our clinical care in health care,” Finkler said at a meeting of the House Health & Human Services Committee.
In the wake of the pandemic, nurses left the field or became travel nurses in other states, earning “over $ 10,000 a week” to treat COVID patients, Finkler said.
He said the situation of travel nurses leaving the state for better benefits through nursing agencies needs to be addressed.
“79% of nursing jobs today are currently filled by agency nurses,” said Finkler. “I will tell you that this is one of the great existential threats to our ability to continue to provide health care. It is not sustainable, it limits consistency, it limits our ability to mentor, it limits team building. “
In fact, there are many current openings for travel nurses across the country that offer better pay than Florida.
According to Fastaff Traveling Nursing, the states with the highest estimated weekly wages include current openings in Idaho, paying around $ 8,000 per week, followed by California, with one position offering around $ 7,900.
Fastaff, a travel nurse recruiting agency, has a position in Florida for an emergency room nurse, offering about $ 5,500 per week, which is significantly lower than vacancies in other states.
At AdventHealth, Finkler said he has implemented new strategies such as “stretch care,” where nurses must treat “one or two additional patients” to increase the patient-to-nurse ratio and “the nursing team. “.
Team nursing involves a trained nurse who manages a group of other healthcare workers, including other nurses, he added. “We would surround this experienced nurse with other health professionals,” he said. “It was really very successful because this nurse has now become the leader of a team.”
AdventHealth is also looking to push the boundaries even further to improve patient care by employing “virtual nurses” to innovate in staffing models, Finkler said.
“We’re going one step further and now looking for ways to do a virtual nursing or a virtual integrated model where we could have one of these experienced nurses in a virtual platform actually monitoring multiple units,” he said. .
Meanwhile, the American Nurses Association wrote a letter on September 1 to the US Department of Health and Human Services, imploring the federal agency to declare the current nursing shortage a national crisis, and provided solutions. policies to respond to the crisis.
June Browne, an intensive care unit nurse at Osceola Regional Medical Center, told Florida Phoenix that unsafe working conditions have contributed to Florida’s nursing shortage, including treating more than three COVID patients at that time.
Browne is a member of National Nurses United, a national union representing registered nurses. The organization says the hospital industry has failed to protect nurses’ health by overloading them with COVID patients.
“I know a lot of people are saying there is a nursing shortage,” Browne said in a phone conversation. “But the truth is, there is no shortage of nurses, there is a shortage of nurses who do not want to work in a dangerous environment without adequate pay.”
Browne said she saw many of her colleagues leave the state for better pay. “A lot of my coworkers are gone, a lot of my colleagues have gone to California,” she said, “and they’re better paid.”