Itinerant nurses can earn four times what a staff nurse earns, making many people frustrated

PORTLAND, Oregon – Amid a critical shortage of nurses nationwide, many nurses at Portland-area hospitals are frustrated that travel nurses working alongside them are earning a lot more money to make the same tasks.

Mobile nurses, who fill staff shortages in hospitals and clinics for weeks on end, can earn four times the hourly wages of a permanent nurse. Online ads show weekly stipends of $ 5 to $ 10,000, depending on the type of nursing job.

“This is such a big problem on many levels,” said Matt Calzia of the Oregon Nurses Association, the union that represents nurses statewide. “We are becoming too dependent on travelers and this is not a working system for hospital staff.”

Calzia said staff nurses are very frustrated that their traveling counterparts are making a lot more money for the same job.

“Our members don’t feel valued by their employers,” Calzia said.

The pandemic has exacerbated an already critical nursing shortage, with nurse burnout reaching record levels.

A recent OHSU survey showed that 60% of nurses were considering leaving the profession.

Due to the shortage of nurses, hospitals are in a difficult situation for staff. This is where travel nurses come in.

Hospitals often hire directly through recruiting agencies, and the state of Oregon also has several contracts with recruiting companies, which bill the state on an hourly basis.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, in early November, the state had nearly 1,000 contract health workers in hospitals and clinics.

In late November, Oregon extended the expiring contract of Jogan Health, a medical staffing company, to January 2022.

The rates in the Jogan Health contract, for example, include travel, accommodation and per diems. At the high end, a critical care nurse can cost the state of Oregon as much as $ 237 an hour. A registered nurse can cost $ 204 an hour.

For comparison, according to the Oregon Nurses Association, the average salary for a registered nurse in Oregon is around $ 80,000 per year. That’s an hourly rate of just over $ 40 an hour.

“The travel nurse phenomenon is a band-aid at the end of the day,” said Iman Abuzeid, CEO of Incredible Health, a career market for healthcare workers.

Incredible Health is helping match and place nurses in hospitals nationwide and in the Northwest.

According to the company, 80% of hospitals have reported an increase in turnover of permanent nurses during the pandemic.

But nurse burnout is not the only factor contributing to the workforce crisis. Abuzeid cites early retirements, relocations, career advancement opportunities and fallout from vaccination mandates.

“What we are seeing is that 20% of nurses across the country have chosen not to be vaccinated. What this has created is even more turbulence in the market when it comes to promoting the hiring and retention of nurses, ”she added.

There is no information available on the number of nurses in Oregon who were laid off during the state term, as there is no statewide agency that ensures follow-up. Not even the Oregon Hospitals and Health Systems Association or the Oregon Nurses Association.

Abuzeid said the cost associated with travel workers is unsustainable. She said most hospitals can only afford around 5% of their workforce to be temporary. Many are over 20% right now.

“It’s a question of cost. Hospitals operate on low margins, and when you spend three to four times on your temporary work, it will cut into already low margins, ”Abuzeid said.

The Oregon Nurses Association is now calling on hospitals and the state to stop relying so much on travel nurses, lest more nurses quit their jobs to take these higher-paying positions.

“When we look at the impact on the health care system, it is just profound,” Calzia said.

ONA wants hospitals to focus on creating better nurse retention programs and provide more mental health support to workers. He would also like to see more continuing education opportunities for nurses.

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