Demand, pay for travel ICU nurses soar as hospitals face staff crunch due to COVID-19

A female nurse is shown wearing an N95 mask in a hospital room
COVID-19 has caused a massive demand for travel ICU nurses as strained hospitals lose staff to the virus. (Getty/JohnnyGreig)

Staffing crunches caused by COVID-19 created a massive 305% increase in demand for intensive care unit travel nurses from March to November, according to a new report.

The report, released Thursday from NurseFly, which links traveling nurses to job offers, underscores the staffing problems hospitals have faced battling the virus.

NurseFly reported that pay for traveling ICU workers has soared 80% to 90% in the last month with facilities facing major surges of COVID-19.  

The report found that the average rate of pay for a travel ICU nurse increased to $2,355 per week on Nov. 21 compared with $1,577 at the start of the year.

Some states have charged well above that rate, though.

For instance, Wisconsin hospitals charged an average of $4,701 a week on Nov. 15 and South Dakota $4,198 on Nov. 6. Both states have become major COVID-19 hot spots over the past few months.

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The number of travel ICU job opportunities also exponentially increased as the pandemic raged across the country.

In March, there was a 300% increase in job postings on the NurseFly platform and over 1,900% increase in COVID-19 specific jobs, the report found.

Hospitals have been forced to increase their use of travel nurses and other temporary clinical staff to compensate for the demands of treating COVID-19 patients and to replace staff that got infected with the virus.

The staffing crunch comes as hospitals have also faced higher costs for personal protective equipment and some critical drugs.

A report released last month from Kaufman Hall found hospital and health system operating margins declined nearly 20% since the start of the year. It found that labor expenses rose 10% compared to 2019 and that the total expense per adjusted discharge increased 12% in October compared with the same month in 2019.