UPMC adds regional option to in-house travel program

More than a year after launching an in-house travel staffing agency, UPMC is adding a new regional approach to the effort.

Maribeth McLaughlin, MPM, BSN, RN, chief nursing executive for the Pittsburgh-based health system, told Becker's the approach provides a new option for nurses and surgical technologists who desire to travel. 

"Our overall travel program, when you travel for us, you travel across our hospitals in New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania," she said. "And now we are launching a regional travel strategy where some staff can choose to travel only within certain regions."

UPMC initially announced in December 2021 that it had created UPMC Travel Staffing, a new in-house travel staffing agency to address a nursing shortage and to attract and retain workers. 

Through the agency, nurses and surgical technologists earn $85 an hour and $63 an hour, respectively, in addition to a $2,880 stipend at the beginning of each six-week assignment.

Ms. McLaughlin said the rate is lower — about $60 an hour — for those who opt for the regional approach.

As of June 1, UPMC has hired more than 700 staff into the in-house travel staffing agency, with 60 percent of those workers being external hires, according to Ms. McLaughlin. And there have been fewer workers leaving UPMC to go to other travel agencies. 

"One of my goals since I've taken this role is to really look at building in as many flexible programs as I could for staff," said Ms. McLaughlin, who has served in her current role since August 2022. "I think as we came out of the pandemic, it's clear to me that work-life harmony means something different to staff today than it maybe meant when I was a young staff nurse years ago, and that we need to have as much flexibility and as many different programs as we can."

She said UPMC Travel Staffing has delivered this flexibility and allowed the health system to cancel about 90 contracts with external travel agencies. Additionally, some external travelers have now moved into UPMC's in-house agency. Ms. McLaughlin expects more to join the in-house agency now that UPMC has launched the regional approach. 

"We're launching a win-back program where we're going out and trying to see some of the people who we know we lost and see if they're interested in coming back closer to home and traveling closer to home," she explained.

Still, she acknowledged some of the challenges along the way.

"Our IT department built us an app to be able to manage all of this because, as you can imagine, we have external travel, internal travelers, core staff and at times it could get a little confusing," said Ms. McLaughlin. "So we've been able to build that to be able to figure out the best ways to assign the staff where the greatest needs are."

Another challenge she noted is that shifts for workers from external travel agencies are often 12 weeks, while shifts with UPMC Travel Staffing are six weeks. She said this is a purposeful move because those in UPMC Travel Staffing receive benefits and are considered UPMC employees, rather than receiving an hourly rate.

"Overall, it's been a really successful program for us because it's allowed us to look at things in a different way," said Ms. McLaughlin. "It's a central function. It's not something we did and farmed out to every hospital to administer themselves. We did it as a system and as a core, which I also think is important."

Now, she said she's excited about the new regional approach and the opportunities it presents for recruiting and retention. 

"We're growing our own students, we're bringing in all these students, and we're not saying, 'You have to just work here.' We're saying, 'You can work for us at UPMC, and here are all the options. You can even be a traveler with us,'" she said.

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