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Travel Nurses Paid up to $250 an Hour Help Fresno Cope With Pandemic

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While Valley hospitals struggle to overcome the surge in COVID - 19 cases, travel nurses remain expensive and in high demand. (Shutterstock)
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Mired in a pandemic and no end in sight, Valley hospitals continue to face rising COVID cases, staffing shortages, and huge financial losses.

However, after weeks of asking for help, aid has officially arrived in Fresno County for hospitals overflowing with patients in dire need of attention.

Travel nurses are part of that new assistance and their presence can mean the difference between life and death for patients.

But these nurses come with staggering costs for hospitals already dealing with the massive financial challenges brought by the pandemic.

Help Has Arrived for Fresno County Hospitals

Travel nurses are arriving in Fresno County to help with the COVID surge, said Dr. Rais Vohra, interim health officer for Fresno County.

A representative for the California Hospital Association said that some travel nurses stand to make $600,000 this year.

“There are travelers that are coming into town, we know that every little bit helps, but we are not out of the woods yet and that we are probably going to be in this really challenging situation for the rest of the month,” Vohra cautioned during a Zoom media briefing on Friday.

Besides helping treat patients, traveling nurses and the expected federal team provide some relief for exhausted healthcare workers who have been working massive overtime.

“Last night, we worked with the state on a couple of federal teams which would be in partnership with the National Guard, so we are looking for a team coming to Community Medical Center,” said Fresno County Emergency Services Director Dan Lynch. “I believe it’s a team of 16 people, it’s similar to what we had last year with the help from the Department of Defense team.”

A team of 16 will help in trauma centers and ICUs while 117 travel nurses now at Community Regional Medical Center will help other facilities in need and allow overworked healthcare workers to get a break.

Fresno hospitals are operating at 105% to 135% of capacity with no available staffed ICU beds, and two-to-six-hour emergency wait times, Lynch said.

Travel Nurses Come at a High Cost

Travel nurses come with added expenses for hospitals, Lynch said. That’s because travel nurses can pick and choose where to work and demand higher than average wages.

In many cases, travel nurses come at twice the price of a local staff nurse, with many asking to be paid $200 to $250 dollars an hour. A representative for the California Hospital Association said that some travel nurses stand to make $600,000 this year.

The higher costs, however, are not a concern for county health officials at the moment.

“We’re not looking at money right now, the hospitals are not looking at money, they are just trying to take care of their community,” said Lynch.

Laura Florez-McCusker, director of media relations for Visalia-based Kaweah Health says there are about 100 RN travel nurses working in their facilities. Travel nurses there are commanding about $150 an hour. In comparison, a staff nurse makes about $65 an hour.

Healthcare Staffing Agencies See High Profits

As travel nurses become highly sought out, AMN Healthcare, a staffing agency, has seen its revenues increase by 41% from last year because of high demand.

In the second quarter of 2021, AMN Healthcare’s reported revenue was $857 million with a gross profit of $280.5 million.

Predictions for the third quarter of 2021 call for AMN’s revenue to be 40-43% higher than the year prior.

Meanwhile, California’s hospitals lost more than $8 billion last year while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report commissioned by CHA.

Moreover, the financial challenges are expected to continue in California, with projected losses of $600 million to $2 billion, says Chicago-based healthcare consultant KaufmanHall.

Feds Release $25.5 Billion to Help Hospitals

After reports of the financial crisis facing California hospitals, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week the release of $25.5 billion in funding for healthcare providers under the HRSA.

While $8.5 billion from the ARP fund will go to rural Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare patients. Another $17 billion from the PRF will go to healthcare providers who can show proof of lost revenue related to the pandemic between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021.

“This funding critically helps health care providers who have endured demanding workloads and significant financial strains amidst the pandemic,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “The funding will be distributed with an eye towards equity, to ensure providers who serve our most vulnerable communities will receive the support they need.”

While beneficial to hospitals, this federal aid isn’t expected to cover all the shortfalls.

David Simon, senior vice president of communications for the CHA, says they won’t know how much of that money will be allocated to California hospitals until healthcare providers file applications showing their lost revenues.

“I think it’s fair to say that any support is welcome — so while every little bit helps, no matter what comes out of this, it won’t come close to covering the losses that have been incurred in the last year-and-a-half that are expected to continue to accrue through the end of 2021,” said Simon. “We are looking at a recovery in the healthcare system that will take years, if not decades to come back and I’m so grateful for anything that comes by, but not far enough.”

Fresno COVID Cases and Deaths

As of Tuesday, Sep. 14, COVID-19 cases increased from 119,738 on Sep. 7, to 122,650. That’s a 2,912 hike.

Total deaths also climbed by 25 from 1,828 to 1,853 since last week.

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