A Need for Travel Nurses
How much money would you need to risk your life every day to save the lives of others?
As with other disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the work first responders and frontline healthcare workers do. Unlike other disasters in recent history, however, the pandemic encompasses the world. The breadth of the pandemic increases the need for nurses, doctors, and first responders.
The United States’ nationwide call for travel nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic requires nurses to question if the compensations outweigh the risks of treating COVID-19 patients. To entice nurses to their hospitals, states have begun to offer travel nurses premium pay. These days, the demand for nurses comes with lucrative compensation packages.
Rise in Pay
According to the consulting company, HIT Consultants, the need for travel nurses throughout the nation has increased dramatically. For travel nurses, their average pay has almost doubled. Some hospitals are willing to pay a Crisis or Pandemic rate of $4,400 a week to obtain enough nurses willing to work directly with COVID-19 cases. The need for experienced, well-trained, and prepared emergency or ICU nurses is substantial, with hospitals and states all over the nation vying for these nurses.
Throughout the US, the average pay for travel nurses has risen by an impressive 76%. In Washington state alone, the rise in wage for travel nurses has gone up 90%. According to HIT Consultants, the average pay for much-needed emergency department nurses has quadrupled since COVID-19 became a pandemic.
Where Travel Nurses are Needed Most
Where the nurses are needed most is not necessarily the regions with the most cases. Though New York has been harder hit with COVID-19 infections, Massachussettes sees a greater need for nurses. Massachusetts, for example, requires four times their normal amount of travel nurses since the pandemic started. New York, in contrast, has only doubled its demand.
The highest forecasted demand for travel nurses also doesn’t reflect the locations of the most severe COVID-19 clusters. Hawaii, which does not currently have a high per capita infection rate, predicts a demand for travel nurses at four times the typical amount. Washington remains the state which offers the highest salaries, even after the current rise in pay is taken into account. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the most significant rise in travel nurses pay belongs to both California and New York.
As the greater demand for travel nurses grows, there have been incentives to draw them in, like tax-free housing and free food. Some hospitals and staffing agencies are providing generous relocation bonuses, hoping to compensate for moving costs. Others are even providing luxury housing and other comforts.
Risks Versus Reward
Despite the perks, travel nursing during the time of a pandemic comes with definite risks. The nature of the COVID-19 clinical progression —rapid patient deterioration, need for respiratory assistance, acute patient status, etc.— has created a need for travel nurses who specialize in ICU and emergency care.
However, workers in these positions are also the most likely to become infected with COVID-19. ICU and emergency nurses who work with COVID-19 patients face high viral loads with minimal resources, increasing their chances of contracting COVID-19.
Recently, the CDC released statistics regarding healthcare workers and COVID-19. Among frontline healthcare workers, three-quarters who test positive are females. A third of healthcare workers who have succumbed to COVID-19 were over the age of 65. Additionally, COVID-19 testing results performed in Ohio reflect the risks healthcare workers take to save lives. A fifth of positive COVID-19 tests in Ohio are from healthcare workers.
The current inflated compensation packages for travel nurses is more of a reflection of the need for nurses rather than actual requests from travel nurses. Most travel nurses go to work wanting to care for sick patients, regardless of luxury housing or free food.
Moreover, travel nursing prospects look strong going into the next year. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the aging population in the US. Travel nurses also allow hospitals the flexibility to hire to end contracts as their needs expand or contract.
In addition, prior to COVID-19, the US was already in the midst of a nursing shortage. Travel nurses could move to where the needs in the nation are at any given time. Because travel nurses must be able to adapt to any given situation, they are well trained and must remain on top of medical trends.
For many travel nurses, the choice is not without its risks. However, those risks are already understood. There are lives to save, and travel nurses are willing to do just that.