Nurses are making $5,000 a week to go to hard-hit coronavirus-outbreak zones - and staffing agencies are cashing in on the new demand

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Nurses are making $5,000 a week to go to hard-hit coronavirus-outbreak zones - and staffing agencies are cashing in on the new demand

Chris Caulfield RN Office

IntelyCare

Chris Caulfield is a cofounder of IntelyCare, a nurse-staffing agency.

  • As health systems rush to find nurses to work on the front lines of the rapidly growing coronavirus outbreak, nurse-staffing agencies are responding to the increased demand.
  • Companies like Fastaff and NurseFly are offering about $5,000 a week to registered nurses who go to outbreak-heavy areas like New York City. The average registered-nurse salary is $71,730, or about $1,400 per week.
  • "It has always been difficult to retain staff and fill shifts given the nursing shortage, but even more so during this difficult time," Chris Caulfield, a cofounder of the staffing company IntelyCare, said.
  • If you're a travel nurse working during the coronavirus pandemic with an observation to share, contact aakhtar@businessinsider.com.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

As businesses across the country shut down or downsized to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, US jobless claims spiked to 3.3 million for the week ending March 21 - tripling the record set in 1982. Hiring freezes meant the 23 largest staffing firms lost 20% in stock-market value between February 10 and March 9, according to Staffing Industry Analysts.

But some industries, like nursing, have seen job growth soar. Economists have projected nursing is among the most in-demand jobs during the coronavirus outbreak and one of the only ones that can withstand an economic recession. And companies that staff nurses are cashing in on the new demand. Fastaff, a rapid-response nurse-staffing firm, ended March with six times the average incoming orders from hospitals for nurses, the company said.

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Fastaff offered intensive-care-unit nurses who go to coronavirus-heavy zones like New York and California weekly pay as high as $4,900, the company told Business Insider. The average registered-nurse salary is $71,730, or about $1,400 per week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nurse-staffing companies are seeing record-high demand, according to four business leaders who spoke with Business Insider. And they're paying nurses willing to go to hard-hit coronavirus-outbreak areas triple the average rate.

The situation marks a sharp contrast to the wider economy in general and the recruiting and staffing industry in particular, which is beginning to undergo layoffs, including at ZipRecruiter over the weekend. Even elsewhere in healthcare staffing, the crisis is leading to cuts. Alteon Health recently cut hours for clinicians and pay for administrative employees; suspended 401(k) matches, bonuses, and paid time off; and converted salaried physicians to hourly workers, ProPublica reported. The hospitals that pay these firms have been losing revenue from postponed elective procedures and a drop in noncoronavirus visits. Health insurers are also processing claims more slowly.

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"Our jobs open and close so quickly, they're not on the website," Lauren Pasquale, vice president of marketing at Fastaff, told Business Insider. "We are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of open opportunities for nurses because of the COVID-19 coronavirus."

Nurse shortages looms in the wake of coronavirus, giving healthcare staffing firms an edge.

Nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic - which has infected nearly 200,000 Americans as of April 1 - have struggled to work effectively despite mask and gown shortages.

The lack of protective gear puts nurses at risk of contracting the virus, meaning they must leave work and can no longer treat patients. Charles Yingling, interim associate dean at the University of Illinois school of nursing in Chicago, told Business Insider that once one nurse starts infecting her colleagues, the initial illness can cause a "domino effect" and lead to mass staffing shortages.

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Nurse-staffing agencies help mitigate such shortages by sending travel nurses - or workers with short-term contracts in one location - to an employer.

nurse coroanvirus

Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Nurse-staffing companies are offering workers $5,000 a week to go to hard-hit coronavirus-outbreak zones like New York City.

The San Francisco-based company NurseFly, owned by IAC, has seen job postings go up 300% in March in coronavirus hotspots like New York and New Jersey. Increased demand has raised pay for travel nurses as high as $6,000 per week for four-to-eight week contracts.

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But NurseFly does not employ nurses directly, meaning workers aren't offered paid sick leave and quarantine pay if they get sick. Some staffing companies that directly employ nurses take on extra costs associated with paid sick leave, housing, and travel.

IntelyCare, which connects nurses to long-term health facilities, directly employs its contract workers, and takes on costs associated with travel. The company set up a free COVID-19 training course for workers going into nursing homes, which can house high-risk patients living in closely together.

Chris Caulfield, a nurse who cofounded IntelyCare, told Business Insider the company did not take extra money from facilities that offered premiums to nurses willing to travel to high-risk areas.

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"Our partnered facilities need more nurses to meet the rising demand," Caulfield said. "It has always been difficult to retain staff and fill shifts given the nursing shortage, but even more so during this difficult time."

Travel nurses get high weekly pay, but are often first to get let go if hospitals cut costs.

Aya Healthcare, another travel nurse company, told Business Insider that hospitals have increased nurse pay rates based on rapidly increasing demand. The company saw an increase in open positions of 11,500 from early March to mid-March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Nurses on Aya Healthcare can make over $3,500 a week going to a high coronavirus outbreak area. Aya pays travel nurses directly as employees, and said it works with hospitals to determine fair pricing.

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Amber DeBruin, an Aya Healthcare travel nurse in Phoenix, called herself one of the "oldest travel nurses you'll find" at 35 years old. DeBruin, who has been a travel nurse with Aya since 2018, said the company covers her housing costs and offers higher rates than what she used to make as a staff nurse in Canada.

But being a travel nurse also means being floated to departments different than what she was hired for, and to getting shifts cancelled before staffed nurses. DeBruin was just working in a pediatric unit, and she said her hospital just cancelled all traveler contracts due to less children visiting the hospital because of coronavirus.

"We're the lowest on the totem pole in terms of staffing in the hospitals," DeBruin said of travel nurses. "If they don't need us, we're the first to go."

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And get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.

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