By IMRAN CHAUDHRY
While the COVID-19 pandemic is waning, the demand for travel nurses and allied professionals is surging once again at Florida’s hospitals. It’s yet another effect of the pandemic on our industry.
As a staffing professional who connects healthcare workers with both permanent and travel positions, I’ve seen overall job volumes increase nationally by 100 percent between March and the end of May. Job orders for OR and ER specialties increased by more than 300 percent in the same time frame.
From the conversations I’ve had lately with hospital administrators and healthcare workers through my work at StaffDNA, I can tell you there are a number of factors, many of which are tied to COVID-19, that are causing this trend.
To begin with, people who avoided hospitals amid the worst of the pandemic are now scheduling needed procedures. It was estimated in a recent study published in the Annals of Surgery that U.S. hospitals lost more than $22 billion in 2020 due to postponed elective surgeries during the pandemic. With vaccinated patients returning to hospitals, there’s an increased demand for travel nurses and technicians specializing in surgical services to help clear the backlog until the requests for surgeries stabilize to a more manageable level.
Hospitals nationwide are working through their surgery backlogs, but Florida is unique in several ways.
The Sunshine State remains a vacation destination. With COVID case rates on the decline, travel to Florida is doing more than recovering. Federal Aviation Administration officials say the number of flights to Florida is actually 10 percent higher than it was at this same time in 2019. These vacationers are seeking treatment in local emergency rooms, as needed, compounding the current demand for OR and ER specialists. In addition to vacationers, Florida also saw an influx in the of number of remote workers amid the pandemic. Combine these elements and I’ve seen job orders for ER positions increase by 300 percent in Florida and by 900 percent in Orlando from March to the end of May.
Further, Florida’s population of those 65 years of age and older represents roughly a fifth of the state’s overall permanent population. This adds another layer of pressure to the healthcare system. Nursing homes and rehabilitation hospitals are struggling now to compete with acute care hospitals, which can typically offer higher pay packages and incentives, for skilled nurses.
Finally, it’s safe to say that pandemic-related burnout is real. The healthcare workers I’ve spoken with-- who were on the frontlines of the pandemic for 12 to 15 months—are exhausted, both physically and emotionally. They worked long hours while dealing with the emotional stress of caring for patients during a pandemic. Healthcare workers not only witnessed patient deaths; at many times they were the only person by a patient’s side to provide emotional support as they passed.
With COVID positivity and hospitalization rates declining and vaccination rates increasing, they are feeling more comfortable requesting vacation or a leave of absence from their staff job. This is understandable and perfectly human of the “super-human” heroes we call healthcare professionals, but it does mean that staff teams will continue to feel strained as individuals take time to themselves to recharge.
While on a leave of absence, it is likely that some healthcare workers will apply for contract staffing positions around the country. It’s a way to travel to a new city, be closer to family they haven’t seen in over a year, or just try something new.
This is not to say that those healthcare workers will not return to their staff jobs. Many of them will. When they do, they’ll not only be recharged, they’ll likely return to their home hospitals with expanded knowledge.
There are a number of teaching hospitals in Orlando that are excellent for first-time travelers and allow healthcare professionals to learn a new specialty or skillset. These nurses might even have the opportunity to float to a new unit. This benefits not only these individuals, but their permanent teams and the industry overall.
Florida is seeing another surge, but this time it’s not in COVID-19 cases. Rather, it’s in demand for all levels of healthcare workers.
Imran Chaudhry is the vice president of strategic development of StaffDNA, a digital marketplace for travel and permanent healthcare careers. StaffDNA, which launched its app in June 2020 by the same team behind LiquidAgents Healthcare, helps solve staffing needs in more than 2,000 hospitals and healthcare systems in 28 states. You can find out more about StaffDNA at www.staffdna.com