The hospital industry is lobbying the White House to help drive down wages for health care workers across the U.S. after many travel nurses saw a rise in wages during the covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. And despite a critical shortage of nurses in the U.S., hospitals are doing everything they can to make sure they earn less money.
Travel nurses, which are used to temporarily supplement existing staff during times of crisis, have seen their wages rise from about $1,706 in December 2019 to $3,290 a week in December 2021, according to the WSJ and Vivan Health.
What can the U.S. government do to stop wages from rising? Hospitals argue that wages for travel nurses have gone up due to an influx of federal money from covid-19 relief funds and FEMA grants for natural disasters. But staffing agencies that connect nurses with hospital systems across the country argue that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand.
A study of nurses by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses in late 2021 found that 66% were thinking about leaving the health care industry since the pandemic started due to their poor experiences. And a whopping 92% said the pandemic had depleted nurses and will make them leave their jobs much sooner than they planned.
Health care workers have been inundated with extreme conditions since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Nurses have been surrounded by death, with over 908,000 Americans dying of the disease since early 2020. And even when people with covid-19 survive, they can struggle with long term illness that must also be managed—often with the help of nurses, of course.
To make matters worse, nurses have been forced to improvise on resources (who can forget the garbage bags nurses had to wear instead of PPE?) and have faced verbal and sometimes physical abuse from the family members of patients who believe covid-19 isn’t even real.
But U.S. lawmakers are notoriously in league with the health care industry, and many are conspiring to lower wages for nurses. The WSJ notes that almost 200 of the U.S. House’s 435 members, both Democrats and Republicans, are working to depress pay for nurses:
Almost 200 House lawmakers led by Reps. Peter Welch (D., Vt.) and Morgan Griffith (R., Va.) on Jan. 25 asked the White House to investigate the run-up in wages that staffing agencies pay contract nurses. Trade groups the American Hospital Association, the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living wrote recently to the White House that staffing firms are exploiting the pandemic by charging exorbitant prices.
Private hospitals apparently love supply and demand until it causes nurses to make more money. Rep. Welch, it should be noted, counts the health care industry as one of his largely donors, according to the transparency group Open Secrets. The same goes for Rep. Griffith, and plenty of other legislators currently trying to make sure America’s “heroes” get a paycut.
One company mentioned by the WSJ, SnapNurse, allows travel nurses to register and be notified when jobs are available. And, again, it’s all a matter of supply and demand. In Alaska, as just one example, traveling nurses can make almost $5,000 per week, largely because it’s hard to get people to work in such a remote, cold climate during the winter.
The U.S. reported 199,075 new cases of covid-19 on Tuesday and 3,406 new deaths from the disease. At least 100,450 people with covid-19 are currently being treated in the hospital, with 19,085 in intensive care.
And if you’re a nurse, try to get paid well now. Powerful groups are working to make sure you’re paid less than you’re worth in the very near future.