Krucial Staffing––recently in the news when the healthcare staffing agency’s CEO resigned after allegations he was funding and supporting his son’s anti-mask group––is in hot water again.
This time, Krucial has been accused of forcing travel nurses based in Waco, Texas to live in horrible conditions during their assignments. Due to Krucial’s policy that all nurses must stay together on-site, the company claimed that the only accommodation available to house the group of 30+ nurses was a local Motel 6, where the parking lot was littered with used needles and drug paraphernalia, men obviously abusing substances accosted the female RNs as they waited to check-in, rats, bed bugs, cockroaches, and even stray cats roamed freely across tables, and excrement and other filth filled every corner of the deteriorating rooms.
Ryan Speaker, an ICU and trauma travel nurse of over three years, who signed on with Krucial a month ago and was part of the group assigned to stay at the motel, spoke with Nurse.org to describe exactly what happened.
According to Speaker, as they pulled into the parking lot, Krucial’s on-site manager instructed the group not to walk in anything other than closed-toe shoes due to the number of used needles on the ground.
“We initially thought, ‘This doesn’t feel safe’,” he recalls.
Speaker explains that his group was actually the second group to be faced with less-than-acceptable housing conditions. The first group had also expressed concerns to Krucial over the housing conditions, but instead of addressing it, Speaker claims his group was told at 11 o’clock one night that they would need to have their things packed so they could report to the hospital at 6 AM the next morning, then be bussed to their new accommodations. So, after working a full shift and being told nothing, the group was shocked with what they witnessed when they pulled in late that night.
According to Speaker, Krucial was well aware because the first group who had expressed their concerns over housing, but instead of addressing them, had threatened to fire the first group and had kept the second group––his group––in the dark until the last possible minute.
When the nurses brought their concerns to what’s called the KOR, or Krucial’s on-site manager who stays with the group at the arranged accommodations, Speaker says there wasn’t much she could do either, so she called her manager with BCFS (BCFS was hired by the state to help with staffing needs during the pandemic, so Krucial was subcontracted by them in this situation).
That manager pulled in and as Speaker describes it, she was very clearly “angry,” but the nurses were respectful and stated their concerns, namely that they simply didn’t feel safe nor comfortable staying in a place littered with used needles and actual rats. In response, according to Speaker, the manager replied: “That’s absolutely fine, we don’t need them, send them all home.”
“It was like a record player when that sound skips,” Speaker recalls. “It completely cut the air. Everyone was like, ‘what??’”
After that, Speaker notes that the group of nurses tried to offer solutions. They found several local hotels with openings and offered to pay their own way to get there and pay for the rooms themselves, but the manager refused. Speaker says that they were told splitting up was unacceptable; because of Krucial’s company policy, all nurses had to stay together and this motel was the only accommodation that had the necessary amount of rooms.
Speaker says that the nurses were told that if they refused to stay at the motel and sought out their own hotel at a different location, they would be fired on the spot. Some nurses did make that choice, while others––who felt like they didn’t have much of a second option––decided to stay.
However, the nurses that did decide to stay continued to bring their concerns about the unsafe and unsanitary conditions they were being forced to stay in, and eventually, the on-site Krucial manager and the BCFS manager called the regional director of Krucial to discuss the situation.
And that’s when things got even more sticky.
Perhaps unaware that he was on speakerphone in front of all the nurses, the director responded that if the nurses continued to “threaten” with demobilization, then they could all go.
“He said, ‘You’re all replaceable,’” Speaker notes.
For Speaker and the nurses present, hearing those words hurt deeply. Speaker says that as a nurse, the threat that you have to put up with difficult work conditions because you are a replaceable worker who doesn’t matter is always there and to hear it out loud took the wind out of all of them.
Speaker shared the video of the conversation that happened next, writing, “This is a group of brave Nurses, and Respiratory Therapists standing together for their rights to be treated with dignity and to be provided with a. SAFE, CLEAN, and DIGNIFIED working environment both at work and at home. I am so proud of them and to have been a part of this team.”
In the video, Juna, one of the nurses in Speaker’s group, whom he describes as a “seasoned professional” speaks to the Krucial director, her voice betraying the emotion Speaker says all of the nurses were feeling at that moment.
“None of my team threatened,” the nurse says on the video. “I just heard someone say, ‘they all can go…..’’How dare you after we have put our lives on the line. We have not threatened you all; we were asking for solutions. And thank you for saying, ‘If you leave, guess what? We’ll consider not hurting you for coming back.’”
“For nurses, we go all day mentally strapped,” she continues. “And then we come back, and we can’t even rest our minds. You don’t see what I’ve seen, sir. You don’t know the people that I’ve seen.”
The Krucial staff member interrupts her, mentioning that he “has been in New York” and “been employed everywhere,” seeming to imply that he also knows what it’s like to see “terrible things.”
“I’m a leader too and let me tell you about leadership,” the nurse replied. “I’ve been in management for many many years. You never, ever know who is before you…We are not just units in a book. We are nurses who care about what we do.
“Before you come to us, make sure that we threatened. Make sure that we’re trying to have our own agendas before you tell me what I am. Because I have been with all of my team today. Not one person threatened Krucial. Not one person. We just softly made our concerns.”
The nurse continued that hearing Krucial’s response that if the nurses didn’t like the conditions they had provided, they could “all go” hit her “like a knife.”
“You know why?” she added. “Because we’re replaceable to you.”
Speaker says it was hearing the director directly tell the nurses that they were all “replaceable” was one of the things that upset them all the most because it betrays a bigger problem in the nursing industry.
“There’s this stigma that we’ve been feeling for years and he said it out loud,” Speaker adds. “He literally said, ‘You are replaceable and you can all go home.’”
“It doesn’t matter if you speak up, it doesn’t matter if you stand up. You’re replaceable,” he adds. “At the end of the day, healthcare operates and exists on the back of people who take the assignment and move on. Anything that deviates from that is punished.”
After Speaker’s video went viral, he explains that some people criticized the nurses, pointing out that they could just leave, which while technically true, was actually not all that simple. He explains that what most people don’t understand is how strict Krucial’s rules for travel nurses are.
Krucial’s Strict Rules For Travel Nurses
Although his previous assignment was an overall positive one, the company has very strict rules for travel nurses: once they sign a contract, they are not allowed to drive their own cars to an assignment, but are bussed to a location from the airport; after that, they must take the company-arranged bus to and from the hospital every day. They can only go to and from work; they are not allowed to leave their hotel for any reason, not even to take a walk for fresh air. They are not allowed to use the hotel gym or pool, if one is there; they can’t eat in the hotel restaurant or visit a grocery store. They are only allowed to have food delivered to the hotel lobby and eat it in their rooms. They have to “check-in” with the Krucial office every day, even if they are not scheduled to work, and Krucial can pull info to see how often they swiped their room keys and when and they can be subject to random “room checks” from the company’s on-site manager.
“This is very different than other travel nursing agencies,” Speaker says.
Although he says that he was aware of how Krucial operates, not everyone who signs on is. And of course, the trade-off is often the high pay that can come with travel assignments. In this case, for instance, Speaker notes that overtime pay was as high as $187/hour. “That’s life-changing money,” he says.
All that to say, despite some people pointing out that if the nurses didn’t like the accommodations provided to them, they could “just leave,” Speaker points out that it really wasn’t that simple. The nurses literally did not even have cars to leave if they wanted to, some had quit their full-time jobs to take on this assignment, so they had no other choice financially, and still others needed the money for dire reasons.
Speaker elected to stay, barricading his room at night because his door lock was broken and even snapping pictures of the stray cat he found in his bed one day upon returning to his room, but he was eventually fired after posting the video to his Instagram page.
Images courtesy of Ryan Speaker
Playing by Krucial’s Handbook
Additionally, according to Speaker, who says he reviewed Krucial’s policies, there is no official written policy that states that the travel nurses must stay in the accommodations Krucial provides. “There’s nothing that says you’re not allowed to take your own transportation or your own housing, but once you get there, that’s the policy they enforce,” he says. “It says that housing is provided, not that you have to use it.”
Ironically, it’s not clear if the housing Krucial agreed to would pass the strict personal appearance policy that appears in their employee handbook, which states that employees are “expected to maintain a professional appearance.” The requirements include a “high level of personal hygiene/cleanliness, keeping hair, fingernails, etc. neat and clean,” along with ensuring that “clothing worn should be consistent with your identity as a member of the healthcare profession and in keeping with assigned client requirements.”
The handbook also states that “Krucial Staffing is committed to a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity. Everyone has the right to work in a professional atmosphere that promotes equal employment opportunities and prohibits unlawful discriminatory practices, including harassment.”
A Closer Look at Travel Nurse Pay
A travel nurse job posting in Texas listed on Krucial’s Instagram page advertised a rate of $125/HR and $187 an hour for overtime for RNs. The posting also noted that travel RNs would receive “lodging” as part of their assignment.
These numbers can be misleading. Keep in mind that the hospital pays a set bill rate to the agency for the travel nurses they employ. Krucial Staffing keeps the majority of the bill rate and pays the Travel Nurse a much smaller percentage.
For Example, if a hospital bill rate is $150 per hour, the travel nurse may actually only get $50 per hour while the travel nursing agency will make $100 per hour off of that one travel nurse. The problem is that most agencies do not share the bill rate with their travel nurses. So, while it may seem like a travel nurse is being paid a high rate, it’s actually the travel nursing agency that is taking in most of the profit.
About Krucial Staffing
A little background on Krucial Staffing. The staffing agency is based in Overland Park, Kansas, and according to its website, and is the #1 leader in emergency management and high volume healthcare staffing in the United States.
As you may guess, Krucial has been very busy throughout the pandemic. To give you some idea of their popularity, they employ over 250,000 clinical and non-clinical healthcare professionals through their reservist program. They’re even popular on social media, with 115K followers on Instagram and equally as many on Facebook. In short, this is a staffing agency that does a lot of business.
“All they have to do is put up a social media post and they’ll have 10K applicants in seconds,” notes Speaker.
Krucial is also a portfolio company of Kompass Kapital Management, which offers investment opportunities in the range of $3 to $15 million. The Kompass Kapital Foundation, which gives out grants, was recently estimated to have $3.8 million in assets.
And while Krucial may be keeping its financial information under close wraps, a former travel nurse recruiter told Nurse.org anonymously that they know firsthand how much travel nursing agencies are being paid, so the accusations that an agency as large as Krucial may be mistreating its nurses in any way is “infuriating.”
Krucial Threatened To Sue Speaker
After his video went viral and he was subsequently filed, Speaker says the company claimed he violated their social media policy. However, he says that the social media policy only dictates that Krucial travel nurses can’t post how much money they make or which hospital they work at.
Although he did neither of those things, Speaker says that Krucial threatened him with words like “defamation” and “lawsuits,” claiming that he had cost the company millions of dollars.
“They scared me half to death,” Speaker admits.
Since then, he has consulted with a lawyer, who told him that he can’t be sued for telling the truth and is contemplating a wrongful termination suit. The group of nurses is also considering a class action lawsuit. (Since the video went viral, Speaker says Krucial has also added a new rule for travel nurses: they can no longer “fraternize” at all, or gather in groups.)
And despite everything that he’s been through, Speaker says he only wanted to bring attention to how Krucial handled the situation when it went awry, something nurses do every time they step onto that hospital floor.
“Don’t get me wrong, when Krucial’s plan and logistics work the way they were designed for, it’s always a home run,” he says. “I wanted to highlight their response when things went south.”
If you’re a nurse who would like to share something about your experience with Krucial, you can contact the company directly at [email protected], or feel free to reach out to Nurse.org’s Editors here.