Amidst the challenges of nurse staffing nationwide caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida hospitals are facing threats from nursing temp agencies recruiting travel nurses for out-of-state jobs, often offering higher salaries compared to Florida. This has led to an increasing number of nurses in the state opting for traveling roles through temporary nursing agencies. To combat this, Florida hospital systems are exploring various strategies to retain long-term nurses, including virtual nursing and team-nursing.
The Demand for Nurses and Healthcare Workers
The demand for nurses and healthcare workers has surged during the global pandemic, with the highly contagious Delta variant continuing to circulate. The American Nurses Association reports that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a need for 1.1 million new registered nurses by 2022 to cater to expansion, replacements of retirees, and to avoid a shortage.
However, health care unions have argued that staffing shortages are not the sole issue. They claim that nurses are refusing to work in unsafe healthcare environments. Meanwhile, travel nursing has become increasingly popular, with nurses working on contract at hospitals and healthcare settings across the country, taking on short-term roles facilitated by independent nursing staffing agencies.
Challenges Faced by Florida Hospitals
During recent committee meetings in the Florida House, hospital executives discussed the challenges they face due to nurses leaving for travel nurse jobs in other states. These concerns existed even before the pandemic.
John Couris, the president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital, expressed how nurses leaving for travel opportunities puts tremendous pressure on their ability to provide care. He acknowledged that nurses have financial obligations and student loans to repay, leading them to seek higher-paying jobs elsewhere. However, he emphasized the importance of finding a solution to this issue.
Additionally, Tom VanOsdol, the president and CEO of Ascension Florida, highlighted the increasing hourly rates that travel nurses working within Florida have been receiving. He explained that due to the time-consuming Florida licensure application process, they were unable to smoothly transfer nurses from Ascension markets to Florida, resulting in the need to hire over 350 traveling nurses at significantly higher rates.
Solutions and Strategies
Dr. Neil Finkler, the chief clinical officer at AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, addressed state lawmakers, emphasizing the exacerbation of nursing shortages caused by COVID-19. He mentioned that nurses either left the field or became travel nurses in other states, earning substantial amounts caring for COVID-19 patients.
Finkler stressed the need to address the issue of travel nurses leaving the state for better perks through nursing agencies. He highlighted that 79% of nursing job postings are currently filled with agency nursing staff. This phenomenon poses a significant threat to the consistency, mentorship capabilities, and team-building within healthcare systems.
To tackle this problem, AdventHealth has implemented new strategies such as “stretch nursing,” where nurses care for an extra one or two patients to increase the patient-to-nurse ratio. They have also adopted “team nursing,” involving an experienced nurse managing a group of healthcare workers, including other nurses. Additionally, AdventHealth aims to improve patient care further by employing “virtual nurses” to monitor multiple units through a virtual platform.
Salary Disparity and Job Openings
Florida currently faces the challenge of travel nurses in other states receiving higher pay than those working within the state. Fastaff Traveling Nursing reports that the states with the highest estimated weekly pay for travel nurses include Idaho, offering around $8,000 per week, and California, offering around $7,900. In contrast, Fastaff features a job in Florida for an emergency room nurse, providing approximately $5,500 per week, significantly lower than other states.
Addressing the Crisis
The American Nurses Association has urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declare the current nurse staffing shortage as a national crisis. They have provided policy solutions to respond effectively to this issue.
June Browne, an intensive care unit nurse at Osceola Regional Medical Center, expressed how dangerous work conditions have contributed to the nursing shortage in Florida. Browne is a member of the National Nurses United, a nationwide union that believes the hospital industry has failed to prioritize nurses’ health by overloading them with COVID patients.
Browne stated that the shortage is not due to a lack of nurses but rather a shortage of nurses willing to work in unsafe environments with inadequate pay. She has witnessed many of her coworkers leaving the state for better opportunities and higher salaries in places like California.
As the demand for nurses continues to rise, Florida hospitals face challenges in retaining nurses due to travel nurse opportunities elsewhere offering higher pay. Hospital executives and healthcare professionals are actively working to address this issue, implementing strategies such as virtual nursing, team nursing, and higher pay rates. By focusing on retaining long-term nurses and improving working conditions, Florida can ensure an adequate and competent nursing workforce to meet the healthcare needs of its population.