Traveler Agency Nurses: Why Now?

Author: Betsie Sassen, R.N., M.S.N.

At C2 Healthcare we’re noticing a strange phenomenon happening in hospitals across America.  COVID-19 cases are dropping precipitously while other volumes are softening.  Yet, hospitals are adding Travelers and Agency Nurses now at unprecedented rates.  Why?  Are more staff nurses leaving to join Travel Staffing Agencies?  Some hospitals have decided to bring in agency to rest their staff.  Again, all this happening while volume is softening, and Agency Staffing Companies have increased their hourly rates 300% and are at an all-time high…upwards of $180/hour!

Many times, departments are using agency and overtime when they are running over on the Hours Per Patient Day (WHPUOS) target.  In most cases, the simple removal of agency hours would get a department to a zero variance on hours and obviously save 3 times what hours paid at straight time would be.  If a department is over on its WHPUOS, agency contracts should not be renewed and in some cases cancelled with penalty.  If a department is running over its target, look to see how many agency hours and overtime hours are being used, and eliminate those first to bring down the hours variance and improve cost.  The cost has become so unaffordable making them “budget busters”.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has left many staff nurses feeling tired, under-appreciated, and under-valued.  The lift from the “Heroes Work Here” signs and pandemic pay has worn off.  Staff nurses are aware of what hospitals are currently paying agency nurses and it is creating resentment and bitterness.

If the objective of adding agency is to replace vacancies left by nurses who left to be “travelers”, what are the initiatives around trying to bring them back or stop them from leaving in the first place?

If the objective is to rest staff by adding agency, make sure the initiative is working and that your staff is indeed taking time off.  Another and perhaps better question to ask yourself is if volumes are declining, is there a way to do so without adding agency?

The appeal of travel nursing will likely wear thin eventually for those who jumped ship.  But, in the meantime, what is your organization doing to stop them from leaving?  At C2 Healthcare we’ve seen effective “re-recruitment” campaigns of reaching out to former nurses and inviting them back.  The goal is to give them an opportunity before their position is filled.


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