State hospitals clamor for traveling nurses

Recent COVID-19 spikes have sent Kansas hospitals on a desperate search for nurses, especially those who travel.



August 27, 2021 - 11:23 AM

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas hospitals are clamoring for traveling nurses as the number of COVID-19 patients rises to levels last seen in January. 

The state had 407 open travel nurse positions as of Monday, according to data from Aya Healthcare, a leading travel nursing agency. Employers are willing to pay big dollars, with advertised positions in Kansas and Missouri topping $5,600 a week, The Kansas City Star reports. 

“You can’t fault them for wanting to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Kelly Sommers, director of the Kansas State Nurses Association. She said nurses are making three times more traveling than they could in a regular job. 

Robin Allaman, chief nursing officer at the 25-bed Kearny County Hospital in tiny Lakin, told The Associated Press that the rising prices are making it hard to hire traveling nurses. 

“There is somewhat of a bidding war going on for those staff members, so you may think you have someone coming the next day and then only to call and find out that they have canceled your contract and accepted one for much higher pay,” she said. 

Cindy Samuelson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Hospital Association, said in an email to the AP that the demand for traveling nurses over the last month in a region that includes Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska has increased anywhere from 35% to 127%, depending on the type of position. 

The association has floated several options to address the demand, including additional funding to offset the cost to retain and recruit staff. The money, which would presumably go toward pay and benefits for staff, would help “keep these burned out staff members across our communities retained,” Samuelson said.

Additional measures proposed by the association include helping small, sometimes rural, hospitals keep acutely ill patients in their facilities. This could involve more extensive consultations between doctors at larger hospitals that have handled many COVID-19 patients and those at smaller facilities with less experience.

The association has also discussed finding ways to refer more rural patients transferred to large hospitals back to their small community hospitals after they improve, as well as providing flexibility around licensing to make sure professionals coming from other states can begin working quickly.

In a letter Wednesday, Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, urged Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to act on a “serious shortage of nurses” in hospitals. He raised the possibility of using federal COVID-19 funds for sign-on bonuses, overtime pay and other incentives.

Kelly also expressed concerns about the staffing problems in a news conference last week. In a news release Thursday, she reminded nurses who got extra time to renew their licenses amid the pandemic that the waiver that had allowed them to keep working was expiring because it was issued under a disaster declaration that GOP lawmakers ended earlier this year. The deadline for those nurses to renew their license is Saturday. 

She also used the release to push for vaccinations, saying “We must reduce the strain on our hospital system and our healthcare workers.” Kelly also has been promoting vaccinations and masking as a way to keep schools open. 

On Wednesday, she posted a link on Facebook to a new YouTube video calling for parents to get children over 12 vaccinated, have all youngsters wear masks in school and to test regularly. Most of the state’s largest districts — including Wichita and Shawnee Mission — are now requiring masks.

Meanwhile, the health department for Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, issued new guidance Thursday urging fully vaccinated people to limit the size of social gatherings to 25 if they are held outdoors and 10 if they are indoors, with masks. Unvaccinated people are urged to avoid such gatherings entirely.