Nearly 1 in 5 health-care workers has quit since the pandemic began, reports the New York Times.
A survey by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses found that 92 percent felt that the pandemic had “depleted nurses in their hospital, and that their career would be shorter than they had intended as a result.”
Their capacities stretched to the breaking point, some hospitals have turned to the temporary fix of hiring short-term travel nurses, further alienating staff nurses, who are then incentivized to quit and take a travel contract themselves.
Demand for travel nursing grew by at least 35 percent in 2020 and drove up salaries, as well, Health Affairs reports. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, Travel nurses were taking in an average of about $3,500 per week and sometimes even more, double or triple what their staff counterparts earn. But compensation is not always the main reason nurses leave hospitals for these contracts.
Working conditions, which had never been ideal in the first place — due to lack of support staff and high patient-to-staff ratios, among other factors — have dramatically deteriorated, Bloomberg reports.
Many staff nurses have been asked to work to the edge of their abilities. Studies show nurses wind up anxious and burnt out from constant stress. Travel contracts meanwhile present options limited to 8- or 13-week bursts that protect physical and mental health. Some opt into travel nursing for the pay, others as a way to transition out of the industry.
According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, In some parts of the country, there simply aren’t enough nurses to hire, particularly in low-income rural areas. Further, the majority of nurses are older than age 50, Simmons University reports. As the baby boomer generation ages into needing more medical care, the demand for nursing is sharply rising while many nurses enter retirement.
Hospitals are adding to the problem by keeping their nursing staff lean, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on the Adequacy of Nursing Staff in Hospitals and Nursing Homes, treating the nursing workforce like a tap they can turn on and off to maximize profits.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals furloughed or laid off nurses when lucrative elective procedures were suspended, only to frantically try to hire them back as covid-19 hospitalizations rose, NPR reports.
Now that COVID has subsided and hospitals are returning to a permanent nursing model, Spectrum News 1 reports, travel nurses are in less demand but many have reservations about returning to their old jobs where they felt overworked and underpaid.
In various forms, staff nurse pay has been capped for years. Most hospitals max out on their pay scale of yearly raises for many years before a nurse will retire without a pension, reports US Renew News.
Salary cap legislation has already passed in Massachusetts and Minnesota, and other state legislatures are advocating for limiting travel nurses’ wages, too.
Salary caps are unheard of in hospital administration or pharmaceuticals or insurance companies. According to The New York Times, hospital administrators are the top earners in these organizations that would not exist without nurses; nurses who have risked their lives serving humanity in it’s time of crisis. If administrators valued the staff they have by adequately compensating them, many nurses would not leave in the first place.
Instead of spending our efforts, time and money fighting about capping travel nurses’ pay, staff nurses should be getting raises.
Nurses go into this field with the desire to serve. They are too busy and tired to pay attention to anything other than patient care and their own basic human needs, and should not be punished with a salary cap for doing the work they are driven to do.
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