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Travel nurses in the US who are not working on COVID-19 are seeing their contracts canceled and are being left without work in the midst of the pandemic.
The contract cancellations come as many hospitals are reducing or eliminating elective procedures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Some hospitals hired additional workers anticipating a larger number of coronavirus cases than the number they ended up treating.
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While the coronavirus pandemic has created a need for more nurses to head to the frontlines to handle the outbreak across the US, it has also left some travel nurses without a job.
The nature of the travel nurse industry coupled with the shift in hospital-treatment to address the coronavirus outbreak across the US means some medical workers are now joining the ranks of the unemployed during a pandemic.
“A lot of travelers have found their contracts reduced, extensions eliminated, sometimes canceled altogether because their hospitals are empty,” April Hansen, executive vice president of Aya Healthcare, a company that links travel nurses to hospitals told Business Insider.
Samantha Koerner, a travel nurse who works at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California, told Business Insider that she initially thought the hospital would be hit with an influx of coronavirus cases and asked to work an additional day per week in her contract so she could help out.
Koerner works between two floors, or departments, in the hospital: one of which treats coronavirus patients. Koerner took care of one of the first coronavirus patients that the hospital treated in early March. Now, the hospital is so empty, she’s nervous about whether her employer will continue her contract.
Koerner said that friends who are also traveling nurses have their contracts canceled before they began. However, she added that while her workload was not what she anticipated, she’s spoken with nurses in nearby hospitals who are overburdened with coronavirus patients.
“Every nurse probably has their own experience,” Koerner said.
Hansen said she’s seen hundreds of nurses who work in operations or post-operation settings have their contracts canceled, especially since many hospitals across the country have paused elective surgeries.
Jordan Sostilio, a travel nurse in North Carolina who worked on a surgical floor, told WTVD that her hospital told her that her contract will end in two weeks, leaving her without a job afterward.
“It’s very frustrating. I’m supposed to be a front-line worker. I’m supposed to be caring for these patients and really putting my skills and my hands to use. Meanwhile, I’m stuck at home with idle hands and feeling like I’m not doing everything I’m capable of doing,” Sostilio told WTVD.
Hansen also explained that decreased injuries such as car accidents, along with general fear of catching the coronavirus at the hospital have limited the number of people seeking medical care, reducing the need for staff.
In Los Angeles, car accidents have been cut in half since stay at home orders were put into place, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Hansen has described the measures of the pandemic as a “ripple effect” impacting some healthcare workers.
Additionally, some areas that anticipated a greater need for medical workers are simply not seeing the influx of COVID-19 patients they expected — and staffed up in preparation for. Dan Weberg, head of clinical innovation at Trusted Health, another company that places traveling nurses, told Business Insider that his company is seeing about five times the normal contract cancellations than it saw prior to the pandemic.
“Travel nurses are the first to be taken off the balance sheets,” Weberg said. “They’re planning for the worst and then can cancel a contract whenever they want to.”
Hansen and Weberg explained that nurses that have the training and qualifications to take on roles working with COVID-19 patients can usually be assigned even if their primary focus wasn’t the emergency room. As for workers with no background that can be applied to helping coronavirus patients, it’s harder to find them positions or reassign them if their contracts get canceled.
Travel nurses have contracts that can be easily canceled at any time, and Weberg said that’s part of the nature of the job. While they may receive higher wages, in some cases $5,000 a week, that takes into consideration housing and meal stipends. Weberg said since these nurses are not in the same place for long enough to take out long term leases, which tend to be less expensive, their stipends are meant to fill in those gaps. However, that also means they’re likely the first to be laid off.
The Guardian reported that for-profit hospitals are already furloughing and laying off their own full-time staff amid the freezing of elective procedures.
“If you run healthcare as a business if someone isn’t profitable for you, you lay [people] off. And that’s what we’re seeing,” David Himmelstein, professor of public health at City University of New York’s Hunter College told The Guardian. “The hospitals — exactly during a time of greatest need — are saying they don’t need these people.
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