The Realities of Healthcare Staffing During COVID-19

Five months ago, on March 2nd, 2020 I had started my new job with MEDRelief Staffing. I was prepared to help build the new travel healthcare division and increase our client base.  That same day, our largest local client called and wanted to know what our safety protocols were for dealing with our exposure to the new disaster-COVID-19. We responded with our disaster protocols.

The previous week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned the United States on the possible spread of the Novel Coronavirus. To this point the virus was big news in China but the US was only beginning preparations for a possible pandemic. Little did we know this pandemic would change the state of healthcare in the United States. In my second week, we began receiving staffing orders for Epidemiologists, Graphic Designers, Communications and Social Media skill sets. Shortly thereafter, we noticed a marked increase) in job orders ranging from RNs, to LVNs and MAs for COVID collection sites in our areas.

By day 7 our focus had shifted. Our staffing resources were aimed at recruiting, credentialing, and placing staff with local clients. Hospitals, clinics and government entities were caring for patients with COVID, screening patients for COVID or testing patients for COVID.  COVID 19 was dominating the staffing industry in Houston and across the country. Orders were rolling in and we were struggling to set priorities. In the 25 years I have been in healthcare, I have never seen anything to compare with this deluge. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike did not impact staffing like COVID-19 did.

A nursing shortage already existed in Texas and now our largest client asked us to fill over 300 temporary positions in the Houston metro area. Different cities and geography were all competing for the same talent. In hard hit areas such as New York, desperation drove pay rates for RN’s into the stratosphere.  Ads were showing critical care and ICU skills could bring $10,000 per week.  Bill rates shot up to $100.00 to $120.00 per hour to match the pay rates. We provided 60 new vetted candidates in the first two weeks and we still had so many orders for professional staff.  Soon the city would be on lock-down, elective surgeries cancelled, and citizens were asked to stay home. Healthcare staffing agencies were deemed “essential workers” by the state officials and we continued to work.

We were working at hyper speed every day to recruit, process and place healthcare staff in local hospitals, clinics and mobile collections sites. It is now August and the pace continues to be relentless as we continue staffing critical needs in our local hospitals. The shortage of personnel is producing an exhausted disillusioned healthcare work force.  How many professionals are not working? Can they be recruited? Many have opted out because of fear and family issues.  Will we be able to pay enough to risk their health and safety and also their families health and safety?

When this is over (if this will ever be over), and a vaccine is available, we may truly be able to measure the impact of this pandemic. Until that time, we will continue to do our job to the best of our abilities.

Michael Leffew, Healthcare Recruiter, MEDRelief Staffing

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