May 19, 2022

Travel Nurse Pay Slashed, Agencies Under Investigation For Predatory Practices

Travel Nurse Pay Slashed, Agencies Under Investigation For Predatory Practices

Updated 5/20/22

Tiffanie Jones was en route from Florida to her new travel nursing position in Wyoming when she got the news that her contract had been canceled.

Unfortunately, her experience has not been unique. According to Jones, “One lady packed up her whole family and was canceled during orientation.” Some travel nurses are experiencing an abrupt change in their rates while others are being completely dropped at the last minute. Hospitals are trying to cut costs by reducing the number of travel nurses and renegotiating contracts with staffing agencies, but some agencies are still making big promises to travel nurses that can make the whole situation seem like a bait and switch.

Jessica Campbell had already started working her newly contracted job at a hospital in Illinois when she was informed that she could either take a $10 an hour pay cut or leave the position entirely. Ultimately, Campbell accepted the new offer even though it seemed like a clear breach of contract.

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With most contracts, if the hospital demands a change in the terms, the staffing agency is supposed to be the one to take the loss. Instead, staffing agencies are experiencing record profits. Cross Country Healthcare, which specializes in travel nursing, earned a $132 million profit in 2021. While some travel nurses are rolling with the punches, others are taking legal action. 

According to NBC News, The law firm Stueve, Siegel, and Hason, based in Kansas City, Missouri is launching an investigation into around 35 different agencies. They claim that agencies engaged in predatory practices that victimized travel nurses. The law firm is asking travel nurses to share their experiences. The findings could lead to a class-action lawsuit. State representatives are also asking Congress and the White House to look into who was unfairly profiting from the pandemic.

For travel nurses, the employment landscape has become more uncertain. While pay rates are still well above pre-pandemic numbers, they can’t necessarily trust that an agency will honor the contract. 

According to a recent survey conducted by on the State of Nursing - travel nurses reported high rates of struggle during the pandemic: 

  • 70% of travel nurses feel unappreciated
  • 73% of travel nurses feel unsafe at work
  • 77% of travel nurses feel they’re not being paid fairly
  • Travel nurses were least likely to say “Nursing is a great career”

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Pandemic Travel Nursing

During the pandemic, travel nurses served an important role as hospitals struggled to keep up with the influx of COVID-19 patients. In some places, the need for nurses was so urgent that they were being offered short-term crisis contracts at rates double and triple what a staff nurse could expect to earn. 

While working in healthcare during the pandemic was exhausting, it was also lucrative for travel nurses and there were plenty of contacts to be had. In fact, travel nurses were making so much, sometimes $10,000 a week, that there was some talk from lawmakers about capping their salaries. While the pay was good, travel nurses also faced a lot of struggles - from burnout to moral injury and feeling unappreciated. 

Travel Nurse Pay 

It's important to note, that it's the agency that sets the travel nurses' pay rate - the nurse's pay is a percentage of the actual bill rate that the hospital pays the travel nursing agency. For example, a hospital may be paying the agency $100/hr. for one travel nurse, but the nurse doesn't earn that full amount. The bill rate is split between the travel nursing agency's profit, the recruiter's commission, and the travel nurse's hourly pay rate. Travel nurse pay packages are very complicated - when you factor in the taxable and non-taxable pay as well as the costs associated with duplicating living expenses. 

So, while travel nursing was lucrative for the nurses during the pandemic (and rightfully so) it was also lucrative for the travel nursing agencies and some are now being accused of predatory practices. 

At the same time, the stress of the pandemic hurt regular staff retention rates and led many to take early retirement. Combined with the fact that hospitals don’t have access to the same government funding that kept them afloat during the pandemic, the demand for travel nurses has dropped by about a third. Instead, hospitals are now more concerned about filling staff nurse positions. More hospitals are implementing internal travel nursing programs within their hospital systems. 

This shift in the industry is natural as the spread of COVID has been slowed, however, the problem is that travel nurses are having their rates halved and jobs canceled even after contracts have been signed.

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This is a developing story, check back for updates. 

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