Texas Emergency Hospital, a small health system near Houston that employs 150 nurses and has 50 unfilled shifts each week, has been losing experienced nurses to recruiters who offer $20,000 signing bonuses and $140-an-hour wages. Texas Emergency, by contrast, pays its nurses $43 an hour with a $2 stipend for those on the night shift. “That’s ridiculous money, which gives you a sense of how desperate everyone is,” said Patti Foster, the chief operations officer of the system, which runs two emergency rooms in Cleveland, Texas, that are over capacity.

Ms. Foster sighed when asked whether the hospital offered signing bonuses. The best she can do is pass out goody bags filled with gum, bottled water and a letter of appreciation that includes online resources for those overwhelmed by the stress of the past few weeks.

Business has never been better for travel nurse recruiters. Aya Healthcare, one of the country’s biggest nurse recruitment agencies, has been booking 3,500 registered nurses a week, double its prepandemic levels, but it still has more than 40,000 unfilled jobs listed on its website, said April Hansen, the company’s president of work force solutions. “We’re barely making a dent in what’s needed out there,” she said.

There were more than three million nurses in the United States in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates 176,000 annual openings for registered nurses across the country in the next few years. But those projections were issued before the pandemic.

Peter Buerhaus, an expert on the economics of the nursing work force at Montana State University, is especially rattled by two data points: A third of the nation’s nurses were born during the baby boom years, with 640,000 nearing retirement; and the demographic bulge of aging boomers needing intensive medical care will only increase the demand for hospital nurses. “I’m raising the yellow flag because a sudden withdrawal of so many experienced nurses would be disastrous for hospitals,” he said.

Source: NYT

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