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Traveling nurses provide burnout prevention at a savings

by Heather Mayer, DOTmed News Reporter | December 28, 2010
This report originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of DOTmed Business News

When hospitals are short-staffed, quality of patient care can be undermined. With the facility struggling to cope with a nursing shortage, being short-staffed is a common status for more and more hospitals. Therefore, it’s no surprise agencies that provide temporary nurses to health care facilities are becoming popular, largely to alleviate the burnout occurring among an overextended workforce.

Beginning in the 1970s, the traveling nurse industry peaked in the mid 2000s, to experience only a slight decline today, says Rob Simmons, client development manager with Travel Nurses Solution, an agency based in Birmingham, Ala. The slowdown is largely due to the high rate of unemployment; when the economy is poor, nurses hang onto their jobs and positions don’t open up, says Simmons.

On a short-term basis, temporary, traveling nurses are cost-effective for hospitals expanding or looking for permanent personnel. Assignments can last anywhere from four to 26 weeks, although some nurses stay on board for years.

“We have nurses in the company who have worked with a hospital for a couple of years,” says Simmons. “They keep extending their assignments.”

When a temporary nurse has been on assignment to a hospital for a long period of time, the recruitment and nursing management may become complacent. That complacency can lead to frustration among upper-management at the hospital, says Simmons.

Hospitals contracting traveling nurses pay agencies a flat rate, ranging from about $52 to $80 an hour. The rate includes the nurses’ services, housing, travel cost, salary and any other incurred costs.

But Simmons explains it’s hard to calculate cost-savings without looking at hospital reimbursements and the type of revenue a hospital may lose by not having a bed filled because it was short-staffed.

It’s not necessarily cheaper for a hospital to staff its facility with all contracted traveling nurses. The cost for one traveling nurse on a long-term basis comes out to be $6 to $10 more hourly than a permanent employee, taking into account salary, recruitment and retention, as well as benefits. This varies slightly depending on location and benefits.

“You’re looking at a difference of about $6 to $10, which is a good gap with hospitals operating on slim margins,” says Simmons. “But $6 to $10 can add up when you have about 20 temporary contracted staff in a hospital on a yearly basis.”

And when it’s time to cut costs, these types of contracted employees are usually the first to go, says Simmons.