The state of Minnesota is in the middle of a massive nursing shortage. Healthcare facilities across the state have run out of capacity. Currently, there are just 32 adult intensive care hospital beds available and nearly 40% of state hospitals have no empty regular adult hospital beds.
To help recruit nurses, Minnesota hospitals say they will pay a temporary staffing agency $275 per hour along with a stipend for housing and food.
According to a $40 million contract that Minnesota signed with SLS Health Services, a Texas-based recruiting agency, the state will pay the agency $275 per hour, or more, for registered nurses to work in hospitals struggling to care for COVID-19 patients during the omicron surge. The agreement also includes additional pay for medical workers who work as supervisors as well as overtime and holiday pay when applicable.
An additional $345 per day will be allotted per person for food, lodging and other living expenses.
Under the agreement, SLS Health will provide 199 licensed and certified practical nurses and 20 respiratory therapists. While working, these providers may be asked to test people for COVID-19, provide care in shelters, or supplement workers at hospitals and other medical facilities.
However, the contract doesn’t specify how much of the workers’ hourly wage will go to the staffing agency.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for registered nurses in Minnesota is around $37 an hour when working a 40-hour week. Pay tends to be higher in metro areas, such as the Twin Cities, and lower in rural areas.
The deal with SLS Health Services will run until the end of March. The state is using federal coronavirus relief aid to cover the bill. Gov. Tim Watz said these workers will be expected to work 60-hour weeks for 60 days.
It’s up to the staffing agency to make sure all the nurses have the proper documentation and licenses to work in Minnesota. However, Gov. Watz said the agency wouldn’t be recruiting nurses already working in the state.
He added that around 100 nurses are expected to arrive next week. They will be stationed at 23 hospitals across the state, including Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
“Our health care workers have provided superb care to sick Minnesotans throughout this pandemic. But now, the omicron variant is causing cases to surge, in some cases sidelining our medical personnel,” said Gov. Walz during a live press conference. “At this critical moment, when our doctors and nurses are asking for our help, we are providing it.”
There are currently 1,592 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, including 239 in intensive care, a slight improvement from the day before.
Healthcare administrators say the main problem is that many staff members are either exhausted or out sick with COVD-19.
But nurses in the state say officials need to do more to keep them safe.
Just last week, the Minnesota Nurses Association held a news conference where they detailed the worsening working conditions at hospitals and clinics. They described inadequate staffing and occasional violence from the patients they are treating and their families because of misinformation about coronavirus treatments.
“We are exhausted, but we are not tired of caring for our patients,” said Mary Turner, president of the nurses’ union and a COVID-19 nurse in the intensive care unit at North Memorial in Robbinsdale. “We are tired of being thanked for our sacrifices instead of being treated with respect in the workplace.”
Many nurses in the state say they should be paid just as much as traveling nurses.
A group of managers at the Mayo Clinic along with 672 nurse members of the Minnesota Nurse Association recently filed a petition asking the state to triple their wages while traveling nurses are being used. They are also calling for wage fairness and retention bonuses.
“Nurses continue to work under extremely difficult circumstances to care for our patients while Mayo CEOs make millions off our hard work,” said Kelly Rosevold, RN at Mayo Clinic Health System – Mankato. “As nurses continue to face down a pandemic, a work environment that feels unsafe, and unresponsive management, these demands will help to sustain nurses who are providing quality patient care at the bedside.”
In response, the Mayo Clinic said it valued its nurses and all the sacrifices they have made over their careers.
“Mayo Clinic is constantly adapting to increase recruitment and meet staffing demands, including offering premium pay and financial incentives, utilizing agency nurses, redeploying staff from outpatient areas to alleviate inpatient constraints, and, in some cases, evaluating surgical listings and adjusting schedules as needed for patients whose health or quality of life will not be adversely affected by waiting,” said Kristy Jacobson, communications manager at the Mayo Clinic.