It’s no surprise that the healthcare industry is facing worrisome staffing shortages. After over two years of a pandemic and demanding hours, nurses all over the world are still dealing with the blunt of dwindling mental health concerns. Additionally, these overworked nurses are causing a rise in medical errors, a decline in staff morale, a decrease in patient satisfaction and results, and ultimately higher expenses.

The labor trends in health care

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 500,000 registered nurses will retire by next year, leaving a shortage of 1.1 million RNs across the country. In 2020, the median age of RNs was 52 years old with more than one-fifth suggesting their intent to retire over the next five years. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nursing shortages were common due to factors such as economic downturns, waves of retiring nurses, and increased health care demand.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the U.S. is projected to experience an even more intensified shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) as Baby Boomers age and their need for health care grows. To address concerns around the on-going pandemic and changing patient demographics, more nurses will be expected to assist in areas such as telehealth, home health, long-term care, and outpatient care centers.

Why nurses are leaving

As mentioned above, the stress and long hours nurses have dealt with over the past two years is exhausting the workforce. As nurse turnover rates are as high as 37% in some places, health care systems are struggling to fill the gap. Burnout combined with noncompetitive salaries and a lack of work-life balance are playing major factors into this unprecedented exodus from the industry.

A temporary hire for a long-term solution

As healthcare organizations continue to search for ways to overcome the current nursing shortage, temporary nurses should serve as a conventional approach to this growing problem. Despite previous misconceptions that temporary nurses are more costly and less qualified than salaried nurses, there is growing evidence that this is simply untrue.

Firstly, it is important for healthcare organizations to look at the full cost of employment, not just the cost of their salary. Temporary nurses are employed to fill staffing shortfalls and are equally compensated for their work; therefore, their costs should be compared to their salaried counterpart’s overtime pay rather than regular time. According to a recent survey of 100 senior hospital administrators, the average hourly cost of a salaried nurse is $6 per hour more than that of a travel nurse. Additionally, many of the costs paid for by the health care organization or hospital to employ salaried nurses, such as insurance, recruiting and certain payroll costs, are covered by the staffing firm when employing temporary nurses. Salaried nurse expenditures account for 76% of total costs when fully loaded, whereas payroll expenditures for travel nurses account for 98% of total costs.

Secondly, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the quality is on par between temporary and salaried nurses. Studies show that the experience and educational levels of temporary nurses are equivalent to that of their staffed counterparts. For instance, a study a few years back uncovered that employing more temporary nurses does not affect patient mortality and actually helps mitigate problems caused by a nursing shortage that could otherwise increase mortality. Furthermore, a study of 427 acute care hospitals by the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) found that whether the tending nurses were temporary or salaried had no bearing on how well patients were communicated with, managed their pain, or received prescription information.

Next steps

Given that patient care quality and cost containment are major pain points for the healthcare industry, it’s important for these organizations to understand that their concerns can be alleviated with temporary nurses. Temporary nurses should be taken into consideration as a proven solution to staffing shortages.

To learn more about the benefits of employing temporary nurses, be sure to contact a Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA) advisor.

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