Amid the largest surge in cases since the pandemic began — with record numbers of patients needing hospital care and untold numbers of health care workers falling ill with COVID-19 each day — the demand for travel staff, nurses in particular, has never been higher.
And the concerns around the prices that nurse staffing agencies charge has never been greater.
Hospitals, already reeling from the financial toll of COVID-19 (a full 45% of California’s hospitals are operating with negative margins, and another 15% are barely above break-even), are straining to scrape together the resources needed to fund travel nurses as prices continue to skyrocket.
Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to meet with California Attorney General Rob Bonta to discuss this issue. While the AG shares our concern, his office says they have the authority to investigate the pricing of goods, but not labor.
CHA will be advancing legislation to require greater transparency of staffing agency rates, requiring reporting of the share of rates that go to staff versus to the agency itself.
We are also supporting efforts to raise awareness of this issue among federal authorities so they can determine whether action is needed at the national level. A bipartisan letter signed by nearly 200 members of Congress cites dire health care workforce concerns and an increased reliance on nurse staffing agencies. The letter, signed by 26 members of California’s congressional delegation, was delivered on Monday and requests the following of the Biden administration:
“We urge you to enlist one or more of the federal agencies with competition and consumer protection authority to investigate this conduct to determine if it is the product of anticompetitive activity and/or violates consumer protection laws. The situation is urgent and the reliance on temporary workers has caused normal staffing costs to balloon in all areas of the country. We have received reports that the nurse staffing agencies are vastly inflating price, by two, three or more times pre-pandemic rates, and then taking 40% or more of the amount being charged to the hospitals for themselves in profits. We have heard the amounts charged to hospitals rose precipitously as the newest wave of the COVID-19 crisis swept the nation and the agencies seemingly seized the opportunity to increase their bottom line.”
We will continue to press at both the state and federal levels for action on this issue and keep you informed of any developments.