‘Is This Worth My Life?’: Traveling Health Workers Decry COVID Care Conditions

November 5, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce

Last modified November 6, 2020

As COVID-19 surges across the country, health care systems continue to suffer critical shortages, especially among non-physician staff such as nurses, X-ray technicians, and respiratory therapists. To help offset the shortages, many facilities have relied on “travelers” as discussed in this story from Kaiser Health News.

As the virus tears through rural areas, rural hospitals are relying largely on traveling nurses to fill staffing shortages – which actually started before the pandemic, said Tim Blasl, president of the North Dakota Hospital Association. “They find staff for you, but it’s really expensive labor,” he said. “Our hospitals are willing to invest so the people of North Dakota get care.”

The arrangement presents major risks for travelers and their patients. Personnel ping-ponging between overwhelmed cities and underserved towns could introduce infections. Frequently employed by staffing agencies based thousands of miles away, they can find themselves working in crisis without advocates or adequate safety equipment. In 2020, the upsides of their jobs, the freedom and flexibility, have been dwarfed by treacherous conditions. Now the ranks of travelers are thinning: The work is exhausting, bruising and dangerous. 

Lois Twum, a 23-year-old traveling nurse from New Orleans, says “We all know, if not for us, these patients would have no one, but watching each other get sick left and right, it makes you wonder, is this worth my life?”

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