Burnout, delta variant boost demand for traveling nurses again

Dive Brief:

  • Demand for traveling nurses is up again as the delta variant of COVID-19 causes a series of coronavirus surges in hot spots around the country. Aya Healthcare showed a 14.3% increase in available jobs from Aug. 9 to Monday with the greatest need in states like Texas, California, Florida, New York and Tennessee, according to a report from Jefferies analysts.
  • Crisis jobs in geographic areas with a dire need for more staff accounts for 71% of Aya’s total job openings. Fastaff travel nursing, another company that focuses on rapid response assignments, saw an 8% increase week over week in available jobs as of Monday.
  • Rising demand is boosting bill rates too, with maximum salaries reaching $7,000 a week for nurses, according to the report. Hospitals today are “probably paying 10% to 20% more than they were paying” during previous COVID-19 waves, Kathy Kohnke, senior vice of client relations at Fastaff, president.

Dive Insight:

Travel nurse demand has fluctuated with COVID-19 waves throughout the pandemic, spurring systems with severe shortages to pay steep rates for needed staff. After a short reprieve this spring amid vaccine rollouts, rising cases of the delta variant coupled with more non-COVID care are again straining hospitals and their workers.

States like Florida, Louisiana and Oregon currently have their highest levels of confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic started, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Friday. Staffing shortages are so dire in Oregon and Tennessee that those states’ governors are deploying National Guard members to help hospitals.

Aya Healthcare is seeing more demand and open positions than during any other waves of the pandemic, Chrystal Fugett, vice president of recruitment, said.

As hospitals see higher volumes across the board with COVID-19 patients and others returning for non-COVID-19 care, this time around, “nearly every single unit is in need of staff,” Fugett said.

Burnout is another major issue dwindling the supply of available healthcare workers.

In the beginning of the pandemic, staffing companies would post temporary crisis positions that were 60 to 72 hours a week so one nurse would be responsible for what two nurses might typically do. Nurses today are exhausted and saying “absolutely not,” to positions with those hours, Fugett said.

At Fastaff, demand for temporary nurses reached a record in December, but the amount of current open jobs is just 3.7% lower than during that peak, according to the Jefferies report.

“The demand right now feels and looks probably greater than the first three spikes,” Kohnke with Fastaff said.

Nurses who have worked the past 18 months are trying to finally take time off, just as systems continue treating COVID-19 patients while working through backlogs of delayed procedures, she said.

She doesn’t think demand or rates will go down anytime soon as the delta variant remains unchecked and upticks in non-COVID-19 care require more staff. This year’s flu season will also likely look different than the last, she said.

“Reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early and possibly severe flu season,” according to the CDC.

After the 18 months they’ve just had, nurses are reevaluating their careers and some are considering leaving their roles, retiring or switching to travel jobs with higher pay, Kohnke said. “I think it’s going to take us a while to get people back in their swim lanes,” she said.

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