Nurses reported an increase in depression, burnout, workplace violence, and heavy workloads (most states don’t limit the number of patients a nurse can have) over the past two last years. A September 2021 survey by National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union representing more than 175,000 members, found that about 31% of hospital RNs said workplace violence had increased slightly or significantly. during the pandemic. More than a third said they felt ‘traumatized about their patient care experiences’ and more than 57% said issues with understaffing had worsened.
Tension between hospitals and staff has escalated. In Wisconsin, the ThedaCare health system asked a court to stop a group of workers – four interventional radiology technologists and three nurses – from leaving their jobs for positions at another hospital, those they said offered a better set of wages and benefits, until they can be handed over, replaced. A judge first granted the restraining order before lifting it.
All of these factors – understaffing, wage disputes or declining wages, and burnout – drive people out of the industry. A report published in Health Affairs last month analyzing national employment data through mid-2021 for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and practical nurses found that as the pandemic continued, the Employment of nurses remained low and wages were rising, suggesting a shortage of supply. While unemployment rates, which include people leaving jobs to seek other employment, have largely stabilized for white nurses, nurses of color still experienced higher unemployment rates than before the pandemic, according to the report.
Travel nursing has grown over the same period, with job volumes rising from around 8,000 positions at the start of 2020 to over 48,000 in September 2021, at the peak of the coronavirus delta wave. Today, the job volume is around 32,000, according to data from Aya Healthcare, the largest recruitment agency. Aya declined to comment on staffing agency rate surveys, instead pointing to comments from the American Staffing Association, a trade group for the staffing industry.
In a statement, the American Staffing Association said higher pay for nurses has not translated into substantially higher profits for agencies due to higher labor costs, such as selection. employees and general expenses, including rent.
The group argued that rates have fluctuated as some areas have seen more need than others.
“Nursing staffing rate caps, which are costly and burdensome for states to administer, are not only unnecessary, but are counterproductive because they will distort the nursing market and reduce the availability of nurses in the states of control,” said the American Staffing Association.
The average travel nurse now earns about $3,334 a week on average, according to Vivian Health, a healthcare hiring marketplace. Contracts can last a few days or a few weeks, and nurses can choose how often they travel. Before the pandemic, the average salary for traveling nurses was around $1,800 per week in 2019.
For traveling nurses, the possibility of moves that could cap their pay looks like another affront. People like Courtney Cutrufello go directly to members of Congress for answers. She spoke to Welch, her rep in her home state of Vermont.
“The fact that it’s mostly women has a role,” she said. “Historically we’ve been undervalued, we’ve been undervalued – we still have a gender pay gap.”
Welch told the 19 that he does not support capping nurses’ salaries and that he would support congressional efforts to ensure that a higher percentage of staffing agency fees go directly to nurses, for example.
“I support the increase in nurses’ salaries and the right of nurses to decide whether they want to travel or not. No one has endured more in the past two years than the nurses on the front lines of this brutal virus, and they deserve better working conditions and better pay,” Welch said in a statement.
But the nurses are not convinced. If investigations move forward and agencies are capped, putting in place protections for nurses would require additional legislation.
“These travel nursing agencies, they’re not going to take a substantial pay cut and they’re just going to pass it on to the nurses,” said Cutrufello, who is part of a Facebook group of more than 185,000 nurses from travel, many of whom fear being directly affected.
Cutrufello has been a travel nurse since March 2021, in part due to the impact of the early months of the pandemic. Memories of the early days of the pandemic are not distant: coming home and immediately removing your scrubs to wash them off, fearing making your family sick and experiencing deep burnout. The job hasn’t changed significantly, but at least she’s more financially secure as a travel nurse, she said, despite being away from home often.
Many nurses the 19th spoke to said they felt agency caps were a misdirected way to get to the root of the problem, which is a supply and demand issue. Nurses are in high demand as many have left the profession or reduced their hours. But if working conditions and wages improve and the focus is instead on canceling student loans or better patient ratios – policies that could support nurses already working in hospitals – the nurses would be more likely to retain these positions.
Michelle Mahon, assistant director of nursing practice for National Nurses United, the nurses’ union, said focusing on agency caps that could hurt nurses instead of other solutions the workforce has been asking for years is emblematic of the profession’s larger structural problems.
“I don’t know how many other ways the message can be sent that we really don’t like you – whether it’s through pay, staffing, devaluing job integrity, providing safe staff or protecting workers from workplace violence,” Mahon said. [nurses] have the ability to make more money while doing the exact same thing, so a lot of people see this as an opportunity at least, that way they feel valuable.
Although travel nursing has always been an option that has paid more, it has generally been used to fill times of need in pockets of the country, or when natural disasters have struck – not for anything with the extent geography and the longevity of a pandemic. Nurses who are doing it now during the pandemic are doing it for long periods of time. And for some who have other family responsibilities or young children, this is not an option at all.
Even for those who can, it’s not always the advertised pay rise. Anali Spradlin, an Arkansas-based travel nurse, said she had two canceled contracts in the last month alone, after she had already traveled to a location and paid for her accommodation. It’s money she can’t get back.
She has been a nurse for nearly nine years and a traveling nurse since last summer. She can do it because her children are adults. But she has significant expenses, including her home and travel (only part of which is reimbursed), covering her own health insurance and helping her daughter attend school. Her two daughters are nurses and she worries about the impact this year will have on her career path.
Applicants to four-year nursing programs rose just 1.5% in 2020, according to the Health Affairs report, compared to 4.5% and 8.5% in the previous two years, suggesting that the pandemic has chilled what was otherwise a growing sector.
Spradlin’s youngest daughter dropped out of nursing school for six months because she was discouraged by stories of nurses during the pandemic leaving the field. She has since returned.
But Spradlin said that while she loves patient care, if her salary was capped, she would consider a case management job from home that wouldn’t subject her to poor staffing conditions at the hospital. That’s what would eventually take a hit if nurses saw their salaries cut, she said.
More people would leave the profession, and especially older nurses would retire, taking years of experience with them.
“We love what we do,” she said, “they just push us to the edge where we’re just gonna jump up and say, ‘We’re done. “”
Originally posted by The 19th