CHI Health creates its own program for traveling nurses | Health and Fitness

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated an existing health care worker shortage, prompting hospitals large and small to have to turn to staffing agencies and traveling nurses to fill holes caused by resignations, retirements and workers out sick with COVID-19 or something else.

But that strategy is only a short-term one, and it’s very expensive. Average pay for travel nurses is currently about $3,300 a week, according to health care recruiting company Vivian Health. That’s up from about $1,800 a week before the pandemic.

CHI Health, which owns St. Elizabeth and Nebraska Heart Hospital in Lincoln, is a perfect example.

Timothy Plante, division vice president of patient care, said the company spent $8 million on traveling nurses in February. Before the pandemic, its average yearly spending on traveling nurses was less than $2 million.

“Obviously, this model is not sustainable,” Plante said. “So we had to get creative.”

That solution is to create its own system of traveling nurses. Called the CHI Health Midwest Internal Travel Program, it allows existing CHI Health nurses, technicians, lab scientists, pharmacists and other employees to travel within the health system’s footprint on 6- to 12-week assignments. The program also is open to experienced health professionals who don’t currently work for CHI Health.

People are also reading…

Lincoln man recovering from COVID-19 makes point to thank those who helped him

Plante said it has two levels, one for people who only want work in hospitals in Nebraska and southwest Iowa, and another tier for those who are willing to travel to CHI Health hospitals in Minnesota and North Dakota.

He said the company is able to provide its staff travel nurses the same rate of pay they would get from a staffing agency but still save money because it doesn’t have to pay staffing agency fees. In addition, the workers get the stability of a regular job along with benefits such as vacation and retirement that aren’t typically provided with traveler contracts.

Plante said the system works well, because in many cases it is keeping employees within the CHI Health fold who might have otherwise left to take a traveler position.

“One thing to keep in mind is that if somebody really wants to go do this, they’re probably going to do it anyway, so having a way to keep them internal within our own organization is really important,” he said.

That was the case for Makalia Abrahamson. The 13-year CHI Health employee was working in a management position at Bergan Mercy in Omaha but was feeling a “tug at my heart” to return to patient care.

“It was one of those contemplations of leaving CHI and going traveling across the country or staying close to home,” she said, which was an easy decision because, “I didn’t want to leave.”

Abrahamson took a contract to work at CHI St. Elizabeth and has enjoyed it so much she extended her term through June.

Another nurse in the program, Kate Syzmanski, said she’s loving the program as well.

CHI Health names new CEO for Nebraska, Iowa hospitals

“It’s been the best thing for me,” said Syzmanski, who is currently working at CHI St. Francis in Grand Island but who has worked at a number of other hospitals, including St. Elizabeth. “I’ve been able to stay home but still travel and get a lot of the travel money that as nurses we want to get.”

Plante said there are currently about 40-50 employees in the traveler pool, but the goal is to expand to about 100.

Lincoln hospitals continue to expand, adding new health care features

TestNebraska provider says it did more than 1 million COVID-19 tests