Wisconsin health system using $100-per-hour incentive to stem nursing shortages

UW Health is offering nurses $100 more per hour if they work extra shifts as part of the Madison, Wis.-based organization's internal travel program. 

The program began Jan. 16 and will start its fourth round May 23. 

Under the program, nurses sign up to work in units for which they have competency, said Michele McClure, MSN, RN, vice president and chief nursing officer of University Hospital, part of UW Health.

This means a critical care nurse could go to any critical care area, or a med-surg nurse could go between the health system's two adult hospitals, Ms. McClure told Becker's via phone on May 20. Emergency department nurses have also traveled between the two EDs at UW Health's two hospitals. Additionally, those who work outside the inpatient setting, such as at an ambulatory site, are eligible if they have the competency for that work.

The number of nurses participating in the program has varied. 

When the first round began in January, at the height of a COVID-19 surge, UW Health would have needed 533 nurses to commit to the program to fill all vacant shifts at the health system, Ms. McClure said. Ultimately, 490 nurses committed to working one extra 12-hour shift for six weeks during the initial round. 

Ms. McClure said more people signed up for the second and third rounds, although the full-time equivalent gain in the program decreased because staff had the option of eight- or 12-hour shifts in those subsequent rounds. Nurses participating in the upcoming fourth round can commit to eight- or 12-hour shifts, either weekly or biweekly, for six weeks. 

Although the number of nurses in the program has varied, participants have always been offered $100 more per hour for extra internal travel shifts, in addition to the individual's base pay.

Overall, Ms. McClure views the program as a success in terms of helping with staffing gaps.

She said nurses called for the health system to invest in them late last year as more staff nurses were leaving the organization to take travel positions at external agencies. The health system was spending a significant amount of money to bring in external travelers, Ms. McClure said. 

"They said they felt better. More people wanted to come to work because they knew that it was their co-worker next to them [rather than] someone they weren't quite sure of their skill set," she said. "We continue to receive positive feedback from our staff that they feel like the organization has heard them, invested in them. It's helped put this bubble around our staffing as we continue to work on our recruitment and retention strategies."

UW Health has 3,300 nurses across the health system.

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