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White House Asked to Investigate Travel Nurse Pay
Federal lawmakers are alarmed by the commissions charged by staffing agencies.
Publish Date: March 10, 2022   |  Tags:   Breaking News
Surgical Staff
UNWELCOME DEVELOPMENT The high salaries earned by travelers can breed resentment among some longtime employees.

Two members of Congress have asked President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Response Team Coordinator to investigate whether nurse staffing agencies are violating federal consumer-protection laws or anti-competition statutes by charging extraordinarily high commissions to place their clients with health systems experiencing crisis-level staffing shortages.

“We urge you to enlist one or more of the federal agencies with competition and consumer protection authority to investigate this conduct,” write U.S. Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and H. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., in a letter to Jeffrey Zients, who heads the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 policy team.

The federal lawmakers told Mr. Zients that the staffing companies are charging health systems two or three times the rates they used pre-pandemic, and that the agencies keep as much as 40% of what they charge for themselves.

“These costs are simply unsustainable for many health systems across the country,” write Mr. Welch and Mr. Griffith. “We urge you to ensure that this issue gets the attention from the federal government it merits to protect patients in dire need of life-saving health care treatment and prevent conduct that is exacerbating the shortage of nurses and straining the healthcare system.”

The February edition of Outpatient Surgery Magazine examines the issue from multiple perspectives, including the in-house travel staffing agency launched at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) with the aim of allowing the health system to rely less on outside agencies to fill open positions. John Galley, BS, MBA, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at UPMC, says the health system could hire an agency nurse for $85 an hour before the pandemic, and the nurse would take home about $50 of the fee.

Mr. Galley is now seeing rates between $200 and $280, with nurses making about $90 per hour. He says staffing firms are collecting the difference, which has more than tripled in some cases. “That’s profiteering on the pandemic,” he adds. "Our in-house agency is a way for us to restore some balance to the equation."

Adam Taylor