Advertisement

Travel Nursing: Price Gouging or Supply and Demand?

      I have been in the literature the past few weeks reading about moral distress, moral injury, compassion fatigue, and burnout of nurses. The focus lately has been on the crisis in nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I and others believe the crisis started much before the pandemic. The pandemic has just stretched the limits and shown what was bubbling underneath the surface. Dall'Ora et al
      • Dall’Ora C
      • Ball J
      • Reinius M
      • Griffiths P.
      Burnout in nursing: a theoretical review.
      conducted a review focused on burnout in nursing. In summary, they found that adverse job characteristics, such as high workload, low staffing levels, long shifts, and low control over the work environment were associated with nursing burnout. They also stated that the association between turnover and burnout needs more research, but it is not hard to see the tie-in. And it is especially interesting to know that the studies used in the review were conducted before the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic.
      I also have been reading these past few weeks about travel nursing. It seems that many nurses are choosing to forgo their regular jobs and move to travel nursing. Travel nursing requires that a nurse sign up with a travel agency and work short-term, usually 13-week contracts. If the hospital or other healthcare agency still needs a nurse and the nurse has enjoyed working at the facility, the contract can be extended. The benefits of travel nursing include picking a geographic area that a nurse would like to see, higher pay—much higher pay than the typical staff nurse makes, and most importantly, control of your own workplace environment. If you are working in a facility with a toxic environment, you can wave bye as you leave after 13 weeks. What is the downside to travel nursing? Some nurses like more stability or perhaps, because of family obligations, cannot travel. Some nurses prefer to work where there is more familiarity with policies and procedures. In some facilities who have travel nurses working side by side with their staff, there are tensions over the pay differential. The demand for travel nurses has increased exponentially;
      • Yang YT
      • Mason DJ.
      COVID-19’s impact on nursing shortages, the rise of travel nurses, and price gouging.
      it increased by 35% in 2020 and is expected to have increased by 40% more in 2021.
      • Bernstein L.
      As Covid Persists, Nurses are Leaving Staff Jobs — and Tripling Their Salaries as Travelers.
      There is an ongoing discussion now about “price-gouging.” Price gouging refers to retailers and others taking “advantage of spikes in demand by charging exorbitant prices for necessities, often after a natural disaster or other state of emergency.”

      Morton H. Price gouging state statutes. 2021. Available at:https://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/price-gouging-state-statutes.aspx. Accessed January 29, 2021.

      , (para 1) Legislators have asked the White House Covid-19 team to look into whether travel nurse agencies are price gouging during the pandemic, and some states are trying to cap travel agency salaries.

      Rodriguez S. White house urged to look into price gouging by nurse staffing agencies. 2022. Available at: https://revcycleintelligence.com/news/white-house-urged-to-look-into-price-gouging-by-nurse-staffing-agencies. Accessed February 16, 2022.

      Is it price gouging or supply and demand? Nurses in great numbers are retiring, leaving nursing, and changing positions. Hospitals believe the travel agencies are price-gouging. Others believe that the price of a travel nurse relates to supply and demand.
      • Bernstein L.
      As Covid Persists, Nurses are Leaving Staff Jobs — and Tripling Their Salaries as Travelers.
      One point of agreement is that something must be done to facilitate addressing fundamental problems with healthcare staffing.
      • Bernstein L.
      As Covid Persists, Nurses are Leaving Staff Jobs — and Tripling Their Salaries as Travelers.
      Significantly, outcomes of poor staffing related to burnout results in poor patient safety, poor quality of care, and adverse events.
      • Dall’Ora C
      • Ball J
      • Reinius M
      • Griffiths P.
      Burnout in nursing: a theoretical review.
      Is the answer to cap the salaries for travel nurses thus reducing the supply? Or is the answer to work hard at the root problem which is pointing to workplace environment?
      I have been in meetings where some nurse leaders believe that nurses are moving to travel nursing only for the money. Is money the only motivator? It does not appear to be so. In a review of 91 papers on nursing burnout, pay was not found to be an associated factor if you assume that burnout may be a factor in the move to travel nursing.
      • Dall’Ora C
      • Ball J
      • Reinius M
      • Griffiths P.
      Burnout in nursing: a theoretical review.
      The problem is that we do not have the data to know why nurses become travel nurses. We do not even know how many perianesthesia nurses have left work in a PACU or Day Surgery Unit to travel. When I searched CINAHL and PubMed, there are various articles about becoming a travel nurse, very little peer-reviewed papers published before the pandemic, and no research related to travel nursing during the pandemic. So anecdotally, I asked a nurse to tell me three major priorities as to why she had left her position in an intensive care unit to travel. Her answers were: 1) Flexibility of schedule—13-week assignments with a potential for breaks in between; 2) Poor pay and poor treatment as a full-time employee; 3) Opportunity to see new places. This nurse went further to say that if hospitals are not going to prioritize retaining their most experienced staff, then people like her are going to look elsewhere to make nursing more tolerable. She went even further to state that travel nursing is used as an excuse to deflect from poor leadership or undervalued nursing. And if you think she is the only one with those thoughts, check out #nursetwitter.
      I believe that many nurses leave to travel to control the working environment, to control their schedules. What is the root of the problem? Lack of resources to provide a safe environment (eg, personal protective gear, N-95 masks), no consistent communication from leaders, no significant effort to retain experienced staff, and high nurse/patient ratios. Those are just a few of important issues. No one is asking to leave the unit understaffed while they attend resiliency training or attend a pizza party.
      • Brittain AC.
      Is resiliency training the answer to burnout?.
      As Udod et al
      • Udod S
      • MacPhee M
      • Baxter P.
      Rethinking resilience: nurses and nurse leaders emerging from the post-COVID-19 environment.
      state: “…nurses need more than psychological support to allay their concerns: They need food, rest, and a sense of safety.” Focusing on individual nurse resiliency puts the responsibility on the nurse and not on how the organization can support nurse efforts.
      • Udod S
      • MacPhee M
      • Baxter P.
      Rethinking resilience: nurses and nurse leaders emerging from the post-COVID-19 environment.
      What are some concrete strategies that can be done? One suggested strategy is to appropriate money so that the National Health Care Workforce Commission, established in 2010, can meet. The finances to begin the commission's work became politicized and was never funded, so the commission never met. The first Chair-designee was Dr. Peter Beurhaus who is the expert in all things related to the nursing workforce.

      McDonough JE. Old wine in a new bottle—time for a national health care workforce commission. Available at:https://www.milbank.org/quarterly/opinions/old-wine-in-a-new-bottle-time-for-a-national-health-care-workforce-commission/. Accessed January 31, 2022.

      Another strategy is to improve working conditions with nurse to patient ratios. California's law regarding nurse/patient ratio has reduced nurse injuries by one third

      Leigh P. Higher nurse-to-patient ratio law improves nurse injury rates by one-third. 2015. Available at: https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2015/05/06/patient-ratio/. Accessed January 31, 2022.

      and increased patient safety and nurse retention.
      • Anders RL.
      Patient safety time for federally mandated registered nurse to patient ratios.
      Transformational leadership is effective in terms of maintaining consistent communication and effective role modeling.
      • Brittain AC.
      Is resiliency training the answer to burnout?.
      An emphasis on retention of experienced nurses is also needed. The days of showing nurses who burnout to the door knowing that other newer nurses who require less salary are right around the corner is over. We have an acute nursing shortage driven in part by the issues that were boiling under the surface and by the stress of the pandemic. Nurses need to be paid in a manner that shows their value. I have wondered often if hospitals had increased salaries and had clear, consistent communication if many of the nurses who left to travel would still be there. We need policymakers to assist in allocating funding for the provision of essential personal protective equipment for frontline nurses and ensuring a safe workplace for nurses by legislating appropriate health and safety measures.
      • De Raeve P
      • Adams E
      • Xyrichis A
      The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses in Europe: a critical discussion of policy failures and opportunities for future preparedness.
      We also need the help of policymakers to appropriate funding for increasing enrollment at nursing schools and funding for the increased space and staff that will require. However, at the same time, we cannot keep tossing our new graduate nurses out into toxic workplace environments which is why improvement in the workplace is a priority.
      The bottom line is that we cannot continue with the healthcare system as it currently exists. National nursing organizations that are not 501(c)3 need to become involved at the policy level. Those of us who do belong to non-profit organizations like ASPAN can still become involved at the individual level. If you are in an area that uses travel nurses to staff your unit, how would you staff if salaries were capped and no one came….supply and demand. If you are in leadership how many staff members can you keep by supporting a safe environment and increased pay. I am interested to hear your opinions ( [email protected] ).

      References

        • Dall’Ora C
        • Ball J
        • Reinius M
        • Griffiths P.
        Burnout in nursing: a theoretical review.
        Hum Resour Health. 2020; 18: 41
        • Yang YT
        • Mason DJ.
        COVID-19’s impact on nursing shortages, the rise of travel nurses, and price gouging.
        Health Affairs Forefront. 2022; (Available at:) (Accessed January 31, 2022)
        • Bernstein L.
        As Covid Persists, Nurses are Leaving Staff Jobs — and Tripling Their Salaries as Travelers.
        Washington Post, 2021 (Available at:) (Accessed January 31, 2022)
      1. Morton H. Price gouging state statutes. 2021. Available at:https://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/price-gouging-state-statutes.aspx. Accessed January 29, 2021.

      2. Rodriguez S. White house urged to look into price gouging by nurse staffing agencies. 2022. Available at: https://revcycleintelligence.com/news/white-house-urged-to-look-into-price-gouging-by-nurse-staffing-agencies. Accessed February 16, 2022.

        • Brittain AC.
        Is resiliency training the answer to burnout?.
        J Prof Nurs. 2022; 38: A3-A4
        • Udod S
        • MacPhee M
        • Baxter P.
        Rethinking resilience: nurses and nurse leaders emerging from the post-COVID-19 environment.
        JONA. 2021; 51: 537-540
      3. McDonough JE. Old wine in a new bottle—time for a national health care workforce commission. Available at:https://www.milbank.org/quarterly/opinions/old-wine-in-a-new-bottle-time-for-a-national-health-care-workforce-commission/. Accessed January 31, 2022.

      4. Leigh P. Higher nurse-to-patient ratio law improves nurse injury rates by one-third. 2015. Available at: https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2015/05/06/patient-ratio/. Accessed January 31, 2022.

        • Anders RL.
        Patient safety time for federally mandated registered nurse to patient ratios.
        Nurs Forum. 2021; 56: 1038-1043
        • De Raeve P
        • Adams E
        • Xyrichis A
        The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses in Europe: a critical discussion of policy failures and opportunities for future preparedness.
        Int J Nurs Stud Adv. 2021; 3100032