UPMC Travel Staffing is the healthcare system’s latest response to a shortage of care reported nationally and within UPMC’s ranks.

According to the UPMC, they should be “the first health system in the country to set up its own recruitment agency”. The campaign is intended to counteract the increasingly popular care services that attract staff with the appeal of mostly significantly higher wages from the health system.

According to Holly Lorenz, Chief Nurse Executive, UPMC, the program will initially be available to registered nurses and surgical technologists. “The goal is to keep nurses, to recruit new nurses and to bring back those who have emigrated for temporary work,” said Lorenz.

The health system hopes to hire around 800 traveling nurses with the program, which officially begins Jan. 2.

Travel nurses have the opportunity to work six weeks at a time in one of UPMC’s 40 hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. “It’s not a lifestyle that is for everyone,” said Lorenz. But those who enjoy the opportunity will work on different floors with different staff, learn new skills and see UPMC’s different facilities.

They will also earn much higher wages.

Travel nurses make $ 85 an hour and surgeons make $ 63 an hour. “If the job posting requires you to move 60 miles or more from home, the travel allowance starts at $ 2,880 every six weeks, prepaid,” said Lorenz.

The health system currently has 800 traveling nurses working from other agencies. “You work at UPMC, but not for us,” said John Galley, UPMC’s chief human resources officer. “The costs are enormous and not affordable.”

Galley said the cost of a traveling nurse before the pandemic was about $ 85 an hour. Now UPMC reports paying between $ 200 and $ 280 an hour.

“The nurses make about $ 90 an hour and the agencies take the rest,” he said. Galley compared the price hike to rising timber costs in communities hit by a hurricane. “Unfortunately they are taking advantage of a situation,” he said.

“Travel is lifestyle though. The market pays more for it, so we pay more for it,” said Galley.

Why are the current nurses not paying anymore?

Sustainability has to be an issue for every organization.

For the existing employees, “we have launched great initiatives in the last six months,” said Lorenz. This includes introducing new, higher wage practices and restructuring wage practices for 2022.

Lorenz said they started a weekend program that raised wage rates by 25%; a new night shift program that adds incentives to nurses’ salaries; and a life phase program for people who are retiring and who can change their working hours.

The new program is, in part, a case where UPMC “listens to our employees,” said Galley. “It was a great stress for them to see so many diseases. They ask for help, for solutions.”

The core nurses and technicians do most of the care. Adding another 800 traveling nurses to where they are most needed will help the healthcare system tackle bottlenecks and turnover.

The healthcare system is currently seeing unprecedented sales, according to Lorenz and Galley, who said sales have doubled since that time last year.

Combating burnout and staff shortages

The solution for traveling staff is to combat burnout by increasing the resources available to existing staff, Galley said. The extra staff reduces overtime for the core nurses and keeps the nurses from working shifts they don’t want.

Ultimately, the traveling nurse lifestyle opens up new environments to a professional. You are always working with new employees and have the ability to experience different things. By working through the UPMC agency, they also receive benefits, matched funds and medical benefits that agencies cannot offer.

The program was designed to be fluid, said Lorenz. “Traveling nurses have an opportunity to see where they might want to become a core nurse,” she said. So maybe they only want to be in the program for a year; then they can switch to one place full-time.

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