This is a guest blog, “Travel Nursing in the Wake of COVID-19” provided by Caleb Skyles, RN,BSN, CCRN. Caleb Skles is a registered nurse who has worked as a travel nurse for over seven years. He’s completed more than 14 travel nursing assignments at various healthcare institutions throughout the United States. This spring, Caleb finished his last travel assignment and joined the Next Move Inc. recruitment team.
The long-term effects of COVID-19 are largely unknown. The future of what life will look like after the pandemic passes is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that in only a few short months, COVID-19 has dramatically changed the lives of millions of people across the world. The economic impact of these changes has been cold and hard. In just the past six weeks alone, more than 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the United States. Experts predict that a recession is impending and will last through the entirety of 2021. We are not only experiencing an economic recession. Orders to stay at home and all non-crucial procedures cancelled or postponed are putting us in the midst of a healthcare recession as well. Here are three major ways we see that COVID-19 is impacting healthcare workers and travel nurses. Plus, we’ll provide a timeline prediction of how soon we see the industry normalizing. Let’s dive in to travel nursing in the wake of COVID-19.
Three Ways COVID-19 is Impacting Healthcare Workers
So, what does this mean for nurses and other healthcare workers? Here are three ways that COVID-19 is impacting healthcare workers.
1. OR Nurses and the Cancelation of Elective Procedures
Well, if you’re an operating room (OR) nurse, you know this has meant furloughs and reduced hours. This can mean cuts in retirement plans, less pay per hour, and the temporary or permanent closure of the clinic/institution you work for. When folks stay at home – when they lose their jobs – when they don’t have that $2,000 deductible – they don’t go to the doctor. As such, here we are on the precipice of a healthcare recession. And the really bad news is that nobody can predict, with any level of certainty, what the future of travel will look like. But as experts in travel nursing and healthcare systems in general, we can give you some insight.
Unlike ICU nurses, respiratory therapists, and X-ray techs, etc., if you’re an operating room (OR) nurse – you are experiencing the brunt of the fall-out for the cancellation of elective procedures. Since your field is so specialized to the four walls of an operating room, it is very likely you’ve seen a reduction in hours. You may have even see a total loss of your job.
The good news is that “elective” is not a very accurate term for so many of these procedures. While the removal of a benign tumor may be classified as “elective” today – if not removed, it could easily be classified as emergent tomorrow. That is all to say – there is a backlog of cases that ORs across the U.S. will have to catch up on. With that, there will be a need to increase staffing.
Timing is uncertain
The looming question is when? And the god’s honest truth? We don’t know.
We spoke to a couple OR nurses who are currently experiencing a loss of a job or extremely reduced hours. Here is what one had to say:
“Stay positive. This will all blow over at some point and then the backlog of cases will be huge. Right now, it’s just a matter of hanging on until those cases open up,” said Amy Gross, Operating Room, RN. “Even if COVID-19 stays around longer than we’d like, I do think hospitals will start doing more elective cases soon because things like cancer cases can only be pushed off for so long. So, there’s going to be a lot of these types of necessary cases that will need to get done sooner rather than later.”
Amy is currently experiencing a reduction in hours but is fortunate in that her hospital has already started working on elective cases.
You may be saying: I’m not an OR nurse, but I lost my job as an oncology nurse (for example) because of COVID-19. Yes, all non-frontline healthcare staff have been gravely affected by the cut in elective procedures and the staggering (and growing) rate of unemployment in this country. Basically – if you’re not on the frontlines fighting COVID-19 – there is no job security and no guarantee on when you’ll have work again.
But the good news is, healthcare is a necessity. In reality it is something people will push off for the time being. However, they will eventually figure out a way to come back to and get that check-up, that removal, that [fill-in-the-blank]. As Amy said above, the work is there, it’s just a matter of time.
2. Compact Licensing Relaxes Rules because of COVID-19
Because of the increased demand for nurses in areas highly affected by COVID-19, individual states have been easing regulations in order to make it easier for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nurse aids to cross state lines and practice medicine with their current state license. News on this is changing daily – so it’s best to check in with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) for the latest updates.
It is somewhat unlikely that these easing up of restrictions will last beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is the first time in the history of the United States that states have lessened licensing restrictions in order to combat a national pandemic. Therefore, there’s no way to say with any sort of certainty that this easing up of restrictions won’t continue. Historically, states have refused to join the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLS) because they’ve felt the compact would decrease a state’s ability to regulate the practice of nursing, take away the state’s ability to make continuing education mandatory, subject nurses to disciplinary actions by other states, and cause increased cost for liability insurance coverage.
The flip side of this is that this pandemic has caused states to look at the value of being in a compact. The value mainly being the ability to get a ton of nurses to come work for you ASAP. It is also quite possible that we will see an increase in the number of states moving to compact licensure permanently.
3. How will PPE change, if at all?
Along with disruption of jobs and changes in regulation, we’re currently facing a huge PPE shortage in this country. From what we can gather, the problem that arose was twofold: (1) We import most of our PPE from China. Since China, a country obviously gravely affected by the COVID-19, was making and exporting fewer masks, and because we didn’t have enough masks to begin with – we found ourselves with a huge shortage of PPE. (2) Local manufacturers of PPE don’t normally overproduce their product due to the easy-to-gauge and steady demand for supply. Once COVID-19 hit, local PPE manufacturers experienced a 10,000% jump in demand, and didn’t have the production facilities set up to match this increase.
“I’m required to check out my N95 mask at the beginning of each shift and wear the same mask throughout my entire 12-hour shift,” said Caleb Skyles, RN and Next Move travel nurse. “At the end of my shift I return the mask. The hospital puts it through a disinfectant process, and we repeat the same process the following day.”
Demand and production will soon align
There are changes currently happening in how PPE is worn in hospitals (more need for PPE). In addition, the public at large is now wearing their own gloves and face masks. They will probably continue to do so for quite some time. Because of this, we believe the demand for PPE will continue to increase. Eventually the supply will meet that demand.
In addition to PPE changes, we also believe “process and procedure” in hospitals will change – based on what we’ve seen so far. No longer will hospitals ask family members to sit in waiting rooms for hours after a surgery. There will no longer be long lines of patients waiting for their prescriptions at the pharmacy. Going forward, medical appointments won’t have to be in person. The future of healthcare will be more digital, less personal, but also less viral.
A Timeline Prediction | Travel Nursing in the Wake of COVID-19
What travel nurses can expect in the next 30 days
In the next 30 days we predict that some areas of the country without crisis levels of COVID-19 will introduce elective surgeries and procedures back into the system. And because of the huge backlog that currently exists with these procedures, caseloads will be much higher than pre-COVID.
Because of the enormous amount of unemployment our country is facing and the financial loss many have taken in regard to their 401K, we predict we’ll start seeing retired healthcare providers reenter the workforce along with more PRN (part time) providers picking up full time hours. Both will result in a decreased need for agency staff.
Hospitals are facing a huge financial hit because of all the cancelled services. They are still in the process of figuring out what the future of staffing will look like. Some are writing in a second and third wave of COVID-19 into their financial plans and others are not. At this point, there really is no way to know for certain what the future of COVID-19 will look like. We’re all wondering whether or not we will see a resurgence, how immunity will play a factor, and the effects of ending “stay-at-home” mandates.
What travel nurses can expect in the next 60 days
In or around June we can expect to see an increase in clinical staff needs nationwide. This will be due, in part, to an increase in surgical procedures as hospitals play catchup. In addition, we’ll see a slight change in recovery times. This is because hospitals will keep patients longer in order to charge more to recoup lost dollars.
At the same time, it’s very likely COVID-19 cases will increase during this time. The country is planning (or in the midst of) loosening restrictions in mid to late May. So, it’s logical that 3-4 weeks later we’ll start to see this increase in COVID-19 cases. Hospitals will need to overstaff once more. There’s no telling how folks will react when and if we get hit with a second and/or third wave of COVID-19. It could cause panic or people will consider it the new norm.
What travel nurses can expect in the next 90 days
It’s very unlikely that once states loosen restrictions, they’ll tighten them back up again. It’s more than likely that July will be the busiest month of the year for healthcare workers. This is because they will get back to work on OR cases and hospital censuses will return back to normal. Another scenario could be that in the event of another outbreak of COVID-19, hospitals will see accelerated censuses.
There will be some factors at play here. The weather and people’s level of comfort with being back in the outside world are two of them. If the weather is nice, folks will want to go out again. They likely default to bars and restaurants with outdoor seating. Being in an enclosed spaced is going to seem strange for a while.
Another factor is the simple and likely fact that a whole lot more people have COVID-19 than we realize. This is mainly due to the fact that they don’t exhibit or don’t notice any symptoms. (e.g. many folks report a loss of taste or smell for a couple weeks and that’s it.) There’s legitimately no way to tell “how many” is “a whole lot more people.” However, it’s good to note that if true – and immunity is a thing – and we don’t see a huge surge in cases by the end of June or early July – it’s likely folks will start to go about living their lives normally. This sort of relaxed behavior: throwing caution to the wind, citing a lack of cases as evidence that the worst is over, will most definitely result in another COVID-19 surge in the fall of 2020. Either way, by end of July – things should be “normal” as far as hospitals and staffing are concerned. However, “normal” may mean a need for more staffing because of a surge in census.
What impact have you seen in travel nursing in the wake of COVID-19? Share your experience with us in the comments below!