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The Highest Bidder Usually Wins: States Compete for Top Healthcare Talent


New York remains one of the main epicenters of the coronavirus in the United States, with over 263,000 confirmed cases and over 15,000 deaths. State governor Andrew Cuomo recently called on healthcare workers across the country to come to the state, so they can help local staff keep up with the growing number of virus patients. Several weeks later, the state is still struggling to keep the pandemic under control. As the situation lingers on, some are now worried that these providers will be far from home when the outbreak hits their home states.

The idea of transporting healthcare providers from one state to another has led to a disturbing trend in the industry: states, cities, and facilities are now bidding for top talent, including experienced ICU and travel nurses. As the outbreak spreads from one state and community to another, this may leave less affluent communities more vulnerable to the virus as local providers leave in search of better pay.

Staffing Shortages and Serving Communities in Need

At Scrubs Mag, we recently posted an article about New York asking for an additional one million healthcare providers to help combat the outbreak. Nearly a month later, around 90,000 nurses and healthcare workers heeded the call, including 25,000 from out of state.

Who’s going?

Some of the providers that left their home states were some of the most experienced in their fields. They specialize in helping patients with respiratory problems, working in highly contagious work environments, and dealing with extremely stressful situations.

Many of them were travel nurses and those who have worked for non-profits, such as Doctors without Borders. These professionals are used to moving all over the country to help facilities in need. Some even volunteered to help with the Ebola outbreak in Africa back in 2014.

Others felt their services were being wasted at home while New York was being ravaged by the coronavirus. Like soldiers, they felt it was their duty to run towards the front lines.

What about their home states?

The outbreak has yet to hit many cities and communities across the country, so for some nurses, helping the hospitals in New York seemed like a great way to make themselves useful during this uncertain time. These brave men and women decided to leave the comfort and safety of their local communities to serve in one of the hardest-hit areas in the country. For many providers, this means being inundated with confirmed virus patients, having limited access to personal protective equipment, and potentially jeopardizing their health in the process.

New York Gov. Cuomo said these providers would then be returned to their local communities once the state had the pandemic under control, but it’s not clear when that’s going to happen.

As we head into the end of April, the outbreak appears to be gaining steam across the country. There are now confirmed cases in all 50 states, with 903,000 total confirmed cases and just over 51,000 deaths.

Many of the 90,000 healthcare workers that left home are still working in the New York area, which means their local hospitals may need additional support.

Bidding for Top Talent

Many of the nurses that chose to left home did so to help those in need, but as the competition for talent heats up, money has come into play. Some providers in New York, including travel nurses, are making several times the rates they would be making at home. Some extra money is nice, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that these providers are often putting their own health at risk.

However, money can be a persuading factor when nurses and doctors are fielding offers from hospitals and states across the country. We’ve heard stories of hospitals and states competing for limited supplies of PPE, but now they are competing for talent as well.

Albany, NY currently has one of the highest infection rates per capita in the U.S., but the city recently lost the bidding war for talented providers to facilities in NYC, one of the richest cities in the country.

The Haves and Have Nots

As the virus continues to spread, we may start to see the richest states, cities, and facilities thrive and less affluent areas struggle. Cities tend to get the bulk of attention when it comes to the media. They also generally have money to work with than less populated communities.

Rural areas and those in less populated areas may not have to worry about caring for as many coronavirus patients as NYC, but they still need talented professionals on staff. As was illustrated in a recent piece in the NY Times, rural America is quickly waking up to the reality of the pandemic. More than two-thirds of rural counties have confirmed at least one case.

Caring for virus patients in rural and less affluent areas can be a challenge. Providers may need to do house calls if patients can’t travel to facilities in person. These areas also tend to have higher rates of chronic disease, which means infected patients will be more likely to end up in the ICU. According to the CDC, rural Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke than their urban counterparts, making care in rural areas all the more challenging.

As a healthcare provider, if you are considering relocating to another city or facility during the outbreak, make sure your main employer can afford to let you go. Work with your home facility to put a contingency plan in place, so that you will be called home if your local community sees a surge in virus patients.

Money may steer you toward new offers and facilities as states desperately fight over talent, but think twice about abandoning your home state if you are needed there.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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