Donna Pearson is one of the estimated 2,000 nurses in Mississippi who left a full-time hospital job during the pandemic.
“We work hard and just weren’t seeing the benefits,” Pearson said.
Many — like Pearson — have just gone to another hospital, as a traveler.
“I’m going to follow the money,” she said. And the money, she said, is crazy.
The job market for nurses is way out of whack. Traveling registered nurses are making far more than full-time staffers doing the same job. And that’s causing staffers to hit the road to take a traveling gig, only to be replaced by an expensive traveler.
The escalating pay is a product of — and partially responsible for — staffing trouble in hospitals that has exceeded critical levels in recent weeks, especially in the undervaccinated South.
Traveling nurses have always made more than full-time nurses at hospitals and usually get a stipend for meals and lodging. But now, it’s many times more. Pearson is headed to Midland, Texas, where she’ll make over $120 an hour.
Recruiters are regularly luring nurses with contracts exceeding $5,000 a week.
Subsidized by federal relief funds
How can hospitals afford it? Several Southern states, including Texas and Mississippi, are using their federal COVID-19 relief money to help the facilities pay the ever-rising rates. The state Pearson is leaving is simultaneously bringing in 1,000 traveling nurses at a cost of $10 million a week.
Texas is up to nearly 4,000 travel nurses funded by the government, said Carrie Kroll with the Texas Hospital Association.
But for the hospitals, there are downsides to relying so heavily on high-paid travelers — mostly morale.
“It does take its toll,” Kroll said.
In Texas, Kroll said, some hospitals are offering staff nurses retention bonuses. But it’s nothing like the money the same hospitals are paying these temporary nurses, who often need some help getting up to speed.
And it’s the lower-paid staff nurses who do the training.
“It is infuriating”
“When you have nurses working on a bedside and they’ve committed to staying, and their colleagues are leaving and are coming and making a lot more money than they are, I think it’s hard when you’re in this environment and you’ve been dealing with COVID day after day,” she said.
“Hard” is not the word Taylor Wylie uses. She’s an intensive care unit nurse in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I mean, it is just infuriating that they are willing to pay these travelers beaucoup dollars,” she said.
It seems like the only way to get a pandemic payday is to leave, Wylie said, even though the hospital will likely have to fill the vacancy with a pricey traveler.
“Just within the past couple of weeks, we’ve had so many nurses put in their two weeks and go travel,” she said. “I’ve seen contracts upwards of $10,000 to $12,000 a week because hospitals are so desperate for staff.”
Projected nurse shortage
The nursing workforce is projected to fall short of