Travel nurses see abrupt pay drops, canceled contracts

Steady COVID-19 hospitalizations and the meltdown of pandemic relief funding are contributing to substantially lower demand for travel nurses, including lower pay and canceled contracts, NBC News reports. 

The reporting comes from Hannah Norman with Kaiser Health News, who found national demand for registered nurse travelers dropped by a third in the month leading up to April 10, according to data from staffing agency Aya Healthcare. 

When Oregon's governor rescinded the COVID-19 state of emergency April 1, Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland lost funding for close to 100 travel nurses. The loss of funds, lower COVID-19 rates and more full-time hires has created a different labor landscape for now, John Hunter, MD, CEO of OHSU Health, told KHN. The hospital has negotiated contract rates with its travel nurse agency down as much as 50 percent in recent weeks. 

The report includes experiences of travel nurses in different states who have seen sudden pay drops mid-contract or the revocation of contracts completely. "One lady packed up her whole family and was canceled during orientation," one travel nurse told KHN.

Cancellations or changes to travel nurse pay mid-contract have grown frequent enough for a law firm to consider legal action against more than 35 staffing agencies. Attorney Austin Moore with national firm Stueve Siegel Hanson said some agencies are "breaching their contracts" while others are "committing outright fraud" in abrupt changes to existing travel nursing contracts. 

Mr. Moore said contracts' fine print can vary, but that when a staffing agency cancels a contract at the last minute or gives a nurse one or two days to consider a lower rate, the agency is often breaching a contract — agencies should shoulder the loss when hospitals request lower rates, not the nurses. 

"Our phones are ringing off the hook," Mr. Moore told KHN. "Nobody has experienced it like this — historically, contracts have been honored."


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