COVID-19 pushes healthcare providers to travel nurses

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Staffing firms, like the healthcare providers they serve, have struggled to maintain workers, too. At the beginning of the pandemic, IntelyCare, which employs a network of 15,000 registered nurses and CNAs, lost 35% of its CNAs and 10% of its nurses, Coppins said. The nurse population recovered fairly quickly but many CNAs didn’t return until after the federal government’s enhanced unemployment benefits expired, he said.

“We still can’t fill all of the demand we’re getting” but it’s improving, Coppins said.

Demand for staff is up about 15%-20% per facility, he estimated, and the company, which has been doubling its business each year, has increased its business by about 130% year-over-year.

“The demand across the board has massively increased for staff,” Coppins said, all while “a large percentage of staff just are sitting on the sidelines and unwilling to work or are working at a reduced capacity than they were previously,” Coppins said.

Most of IntelyCare’s employees, known as IntelyPros, have full-time jobs at other facilities and work for the company part time.

Coppins said the prices for contract staff are market driven and that IntelyCare isn’t demanding higher pay rates than during pre-pandemic times.

“A facility decides if they want to pay higher than that to get a shift filled,” Coppins said. “We will not be price gouging anyone; we don’t need to.”

Chris Caulfield, chief nursing officer for IntelyCare, said contract employees make about 25% more than they would being employed at a facility. Any pandemic-era increases, he said, are passed on to the nurses and CNAs.

Devana Mills, a registered nurse for IntelyCare who lives and works in the Cape Cod, Mass., area, was working full time at a nursing home and part time at a hospital before becoming a contract nurse last July. Now, she works 32 to 40 hours per week and makes the same amount as she did juggling two jobs.

“Sometimes you get bonuses on your shift. If there’s a hole in a schedule and there’s a great need, you can get double or triple the amount you usually make, which is a plus,” she said.

One week’s paycheck can sometimes be the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of work, she said. That gives her the flexibility to choose her hours and take time off when she needs it to care for her 5-year-old son and attend classes to become a nurse practitioner.

“It works for me,” Mills said. “If I want to work, I can. If I don’t want to, I don’t have to.”

So far, she hasn’t had to travel more than 5 miles from home and generally works at the same two facilities.

“Since I’ve started, there hasn’t been a time that I couldn’t find work. Even if it’s not at the same facility, there’s always work,” Mills said. “I’m very happy with the choice I made.”

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