By Deena Beasley and Kristina Cooke
(Reuters) – Staffing agencies, which have deployed thousands of healthcare workers in recent weeks to jobs at hospitals in New York City and other areas hit hard by the coronavirus, say some of those temporary workers are no longer needed.
The trend, coupled with a flattening in the number of New Yorkers hospitalized with coronavirus infection, reinforces the sense that New York may have reached the peak of the health crisis.
“We have had to reassign some of our travelers who were going to New York,” San Diego-based staffing firm Aya Healthcare said in an emailed statement.
Demand for “travel nurses” jumped during March and early April in cities like New Orleans, and especially New York, which saw the nation’s largest spike in cases of COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
But New York, which ramped up its hospital bed capacity to around 90,000, has had only about 18,000 patients hospitalized for the past several days.
“We are seeing contracts in New York get cancelled,” Lindsey Scott, a spokeswoman for staffing agency Trusted Health, said in an email. “The hospitals in New York hired a ton of travelers as the crisis started to ramp up, and then either had more nurses than they needed, or in some cases, more than they could ingest into the system.”
She said Trusted Health had “multiple nurses who left their families and in some cases full-time jobs,” to travel to New York, only to find that they were no longer needed.
Karla Guerra, 27, an emergency room nurse from Arizona, said her contract at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital system was abruptly canceled on Monday, the day she completed her onsite orientation. She had expected to earn $32,000 for eight weeks’ work.
Now, she is $3,000 out of pocket for her travel and first month’s rent, and is trying to find a new contract as soon as possible.
“Every day I am here I am losing money,” she said. “It’s disappointing because I came out here with the intention to help but unfortunately things didn’t pan out.”
Mount Sinai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Northwell Health, a 23-hospital system in New York, said it was still hiring temporary nurses, and planned to bring in about 100 next week.
Trusted Health said it was doing everything it could to redeploy canceled nurses to new contracts, particularly if they are willing to go to another state like Michigan, where job openings have surged.
CALL FOR HELP
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called last month for medical workers across the country to come to New York and help out in caring for the growing numbers of COVID-19 patients.
To date, around 93,000 medical professionals have signed up through New York’s online volunteer portal, some 81,000 have had their credentials vetted and about 12,000 have been referred to hospitals, according to Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall.
Those efforts are separate from the short-term employment contracts facilitated by agencies like Aya and Trusted Health, which routinely operate to provide hospitals with licensed professionals to fill short-term staffing needs.
Cuomo said on Tuesday the total number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state fell for the first time since the onset of the outbreak, a sign the state at the epicenter may be at the peak of its crisis.
He said that a total of 18,697 people were hospitalized across New York, down from 18,825 a day earlier and the first tick lower since the crisis began.
U.S. deaths from the virus topped 25,300 on Tuesday, doubling in one week, according to a Reuters tally. So far this week, deaths have increased by about 7% per day on average compared with 14% last week and 30% many days in March. Cases this week are up an average of 5% per day compared with 7.8% last week and 30% per day in March.
In March, many U.S. hospitals were looking to augment their staff in preparation for a surge of coronavirus patients at the same time some healthcare workers were having to be quarantined after being exposed to the virus.
Trusted Health said at that time that nurses were being offered contracts at nearly double their typical pay rates.
(Reporting by Deena Beasley and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Peter Cooney)