Industry trade

Staffing firms defend traveling nurse fees as industry groups and Congress call for investigation

As healthcare worker shortages persist in the United States, hospitals, their lobbies and elected officials are pushing for a closer look at travel nurse recruitment agencies and the high rates they have charged hospitals for temporary staff throughout the pandemic.

At the same time, lawmakers in some states are even considering capping the rate hospitals can pay agencies for temporary nursing staff.

But staffing firms are crying foul, defending the rates as reasonable because of the cost the job places on nurses as they navigate the pandemic.

Demand for travel nurses has skyrocketed over the past two years as systems grapple with COVID-19 surges and people return for medical care they’ve been postponing for the first few months. of the pandemic. Meanwhile, school closures, calls from sick staff and turnover related to burnout have resulted in a dwindling supply of available nurses.

From January 2020 to this January, advertised pay rates for travel nurses jumped 67%, with staffing companies charging hospitals an additional 28% to 32% over those pay rates, according to Proculent Health, a workforce data and technology company.

Hospital lobby, the American Hospital Association, is renewing its push for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate travel nurse staffing rates after writing to the FTC on the issue last year, though the AHA said she had still not received a response.

In a letter sent Friday to White House officials, AHAas well as the nursing home lobby, said recruiting agencies are “exploit” staff shortages by charging “uniformly high prices” in a coordinated manner.

Members of Congress sent a similar letter at Jeff Zients, who is leading the White House’s COVID-19 response, on January 24.

“We urge you to engage one or more of the federal competition and consumer protection agencies to investigate this conduct to determine whether it is the product of anticompetitive activity and/or violates antitrust laws. consumer protection,” they wrote to Zients.

Although no federal legislation has been introduced supporting nursing rate caps, a handful of states Oregon, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Kentucky introduced legislation to do so, said Toby Malara, vice president of government relations for the American Staffing Association, a trade association for the staffing industry.

Massachusetts and Minnesota are the only two states with nursing rate caps, although during the pandemic both were forced to increase or waive their restrictions, the ASA wrote in a memo. January.

The note argues that cApplying the amount of money a staffing agency can charge a hospital or long-term care facility would exacerbate local shortages, forcing nurses to work in other states or leave the profession altogether.

The group also argues that while the pay of traveling nurses has increased exponentially, the demands of the job have also increased. Over the past two years, staff have had to deal with stress, burnout, overwork, physical danger and animosity from frustrated and frustrated colleagues, patients and hospital visitors.

Numerous surveys show that healthcare workers are struggling with generalized stress and burnoutprompting many to consider quitting their jobs, further reducing the supply of available workers.

These people who are paid two or three times more than they may have been paid before deserve to receive that amount,” Malara said. “They are setting a price for what they think they are worth.”

Travel staffing agencies often send nurses to other crisis situations such as areas affected by hurricanes or other natural disasters. Historically, these assignments have also been difficult to fill, resulting in higher rates for staff willing to take the jobs, said Lauren Pasquale Bartlett, senior vice president of marketing at Ingenovis Health, a nurse recruitment agency.

“The market has always set the prices for travel nursing, and in the same way that the pandemic is probably one of the worst health crises most of us have seen in our generation, the prices are more higher than we’ve ever seen in our generation because that’s what the market demands,” said Pasquale Bartlett.

In their letters, the AHA and members of Congress both allege that recruiting firms are seizing on the pandemic as an opportunity to inflate rates and boost their bottom line. However, the agencies refute these claims, saying that despite dramatic increases in revenue, their profits have remained relatively flat throughout the pandemic.

However, this has not been the case for some recruitment companies that publish their financial statements. In the third quarter of 2021, placement agency AMN Health reported net income of $74 million, nearly triple its net income in the third quarter of 2020.

Another staffing company, Cross Country Healthcare, posted a profit of $23.4 million in the third quarter, up sharply from a loss of $1.3 million in the third quarter of 2020, according to reports on the results.