Newly insured and an improving economy have hospitals turning to contract nurses

Hospitals are increasingly turning to contract nurses from staffing agencies to fill in the gaps until they can hire permanent nurses, according to a contributed post. The reason? Higher patient loads from those newly insured under the Affordable Care Act and those who are newly able to seek care in an improving economy.

Contract labor comes at a premium, the author writes, although there's also an argument that contract nurses can save hospitals money. Nashville-based HCA Holdings CFO William Rutherford said in a recent earnings call that HCA's contract labor expense was up 36 percent, or by $55 million, over the third quarter of 2014.

Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services also reported higher nurse labor costs, the author notes, but CFO Steve Filton said the system isn't struggling to find and hire nurses. That wasn't the case a decade ago, he said during Universal's third-quarter earnings call.

Ten years ago, experts also were predicting a dire nursing shortage 10 years from now. New research still projects a shortfall of nurses in 2025, but says the size of the shortfall--an estimated 4 percent--will be less than predicted in the past.

Still, the looming shortage will hit some providers harder than others. In the next three years, the Department of Veterans Affairs will need nearly 40,000 registered nurses to meet growing veterans' healthcare needs, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The most serious shortage may be among nursing school faculty, FierceHealthcare previously reported, citing reports that two-thirds of nursing schools turn away students because of faculty shortfalls. The American Nurses Association said in 2014 that the U.S. will need 1.1 million new nurses by 2022 to replace retirees and meet growing healthcare needs.

For more information:
- read the post
- find the HCA earnings call notes
- here's the Universal earnings call announcement