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Help For The Helpers: Travel Nurses Are Necessary, But Come At High Cost For Hospitals

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Right now, hospitals are in crisis mode. Not just because they're treating patients in a deadly pandemic, but because they're dealing with more than 40,000 health care worker vacancies across the country, including here in Minnesota.

Travel health care workers are being sent all over to provide some help and relief, but it's coming at a high cost for hospitals.

Jeiven Randhawa is one of those travel health care workers. Minnesota is just a quick stop in her hospital tour around the country, which has also included New Mexico, Illinois and New York in the last two years.

"It kind of suits what's happening in my life right now," said Randhawa. "My kids are older and that kind of thing."

Randhawa is a sonographer, who's doing ultrasounds at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center for a six-month contract.

"I'm finding everybody is so friendly, they're actually very friendly here, very helpful," said Randhawa.

With the strain of the pandemic weighing heavily on her temporary co-workers, Randhawa says she's able to provide much-needed breaks for them, or to allow them to be used somewhere else more urgent.

"Everybody in the hospital is so overworked that any help that they can get is just generally appreciated more than ever before," said Randhawa.

The Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA) says the national nursing shortage is caused by a number of things including burnout, early retirement and staff missing work to care for themselves or families.

For just a portion of perspective on this, at M Health Fairview they currently have 2,900 open positions. This last year has been one of the largest hiring and recruitment efforts in their hospital's history, and they're even expanding their search internationally for nurses.

Health Care Worker, Hospital Generic
(credit: CBS)

Dr. Rahul Koranne, the CEO of the MHA, says hospitals are in a tough place because temporary workers are a necessity to help this shortage, but are unaffordable.

"We are now starting to use the term 'price gouging' and 'profiteering,'" said Koranne. "The rate that those temp agencies charge, and this is public figures, was $275 an hour for one nurse. That is exorbitant and unsustainable."

Randhawa says her salary now is more than double what she was making as a full-time sonographer back home in Canada.

"You get paid a wage, and then you get paid a housing per diem, and a food per diem," said Randhawa.

The MHA says this high-cost, temporary employee is caused by a ripple effect. As the shortage becomes more severe, travel nurses are more in demand, and travel nurse agency rates go up.

"It's exactly because of the supply-demand mismatch, but that's not fair to anybody," said Koranne. "It's not fair to those nurses and those staff that have been with the hospital for decades."

While the hospital association pushes for change in travel agency rates, Randhawa says she is using her surplus salary to help pay off her daughter's student loans, and looks forward to her next hospital contract, hopefully in a warmer state.

"One of the places I do want to go is Hawaii. I'm waiting for one of those to come up," said Randhawa.

The MHA is bringing forth several bills in the current session, including one called "Hero Pay." They're urging legislators to give some of the surplus budget to all full- and part-time health care workers who permanently reside and work in Minnesota.

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