La. nurses offered healthy payday
But will out-of-state stints hurt locals?
By Susan Finch
Staff writer/The Times-Picayune http://www.nolalive.com/business/t-p...nursing01.html
For more than 300 Louisiana registered nurses, the lure has been too great to pass up: the opportunity to earn top money as temporary replacements for Minnesota nurses who threatened to go on strike early today if they hadn't won a new contract by that time.
Last month, 330 registered nurses asked the Louisiana Board of Nursing to send their professional credentials to Minnesota nursing officials. The board also forwarded such paperwork for more than 400 other nurses to other states, most notably California, to work temporarily in hospitals strapped for staff, said Cynthia Morris, the Louisiana board's assistant executive director.
New Orleans nurses are among those answering the call to go to Minnesota and other states for temporary jobs, where they're guaranteed as much as $40 or more an hour compared to $22 an hour for experienced nurses here. They earn $2 or $3 more for night or weekend work.
Nevertheless, New Orleans area hospital officials said their operations haven't been affected by the outflow.
At Ochsner Foundation Hospital, a handful of nurses are taking vacation time or a long weekend to go to Minnesota to work, but that hasn't affected Ochsner's quality of care, spokeswoman Amy Goforth said.
At the six Tenet Health system hospitals in the New Orleans area, where nurses recently got a raise, the Minnesota situation has had no effect, said Dr. Stephen Newman, Tenet's Gulf States regional senior vice president.
"In addition to our full-time and part-time nurses, we have our own regional pool of nurses that we use to supplement for excessive demand for services, vacations and sick leave, so we have a built-in safety net to cover these sorts of contingencies," Newman said.
But Dr. Brobson Lutz, president of the Orleans Parish Medical Society, said he worries what the nursing shortages in other states "is going to do to the availability of nurses here."
Those likely to be tempted to take temporary out-of-state work, he said, are swing-shift nurses who are available for pool nursing and backup work when hospitals are unable to fill their regular nursing shifts.
"That means the (local) hospitals, in order to retain nurses, will have to increase salaries, bringing about possibly a nursing salary war in New Orleans just like the gasoline wars," he said.
"This happens all the time," Lutz said. "Once one hospital goes up, the other hospitals go up to meet it.'
According to the head of one New Orleans area supplemental nurse staffing agency, threatened nurse strikes aren't the only thing persuading some Louisiana nurses to leave home for temporary work in other states.
The official, who did not want her name or her company's name used, said several Northern states where hourly pay for registered nurses is higher than in Louisiana recently began offering out-of-state nurses two-week contracts at $40 to $50 an hour instead the 12-week contracts such "traveling nurses" once were required to sign.
"It's the short-term agreements that are killing us," the nurse staffing executive said. With hospitals in some states offering non-resident nurses housing, food and even $10,000 completion bonuses, "They'd be fools not to do it," she said. "They can come back and pay their house off."
Minneapolis-St. Paul hospitals were gearing up this week for a nurses' strike, scheduling orientations for out-of-state replacements who will be expected to work 12-hour shifts six days a week. In return, they will get $40 an hour, plus free housing, transportation and other perks.
One longtime New Orleans area intensive care nurse said he was shocked at what the Minnesota hospitals were offering to bring nurses in from other states.
"They're paying for the license, they're paying for the air trip there, they're putting you up in a luxury motel, providing transportation to and from the hospitals," he said. "They do everything for your except have somebody there to bathe you."
The nurse, who did not want to be identified, said nurses he knows who have headed to Minnesota are experienced ones who are doing so basically for the money. He decided against going on the road, however.
"The whole purpose of the strike is to let (the public) know what it's like to be without nurses," he said. "It would be counterproductive for me as a professional to go up there.
"The nurses are striking up there basically because of some of the same situations we find ourselves in down here: being short of nurses, having more responsibility placed on us," he said.
Nursing, a field that once attracted people in droves, has become a profession in which the average age of a bedside nurse is 48 and in which 60 percent of the work force is part time, industry officials say.
They add that what is happening in states with pronounced nursing shortages will spread across the nation, including to Louisiana, unless more is done to make nursing an attractive job for young people.
P.K. Scheerle of American Nursing Services, which helps several New Orleans area hospitals meet staffing needs, said the slide in popularity of nursing as a profession has many causes, only one of which is inadequate pay.
Attracting more people into nursing, she said, will involve spotlighting the personal satisfaction the job offers.
"There are very few professions you can go into where you are a hero," Scheerle said. "Every day, a patient or a family member looks at you and says, ‘Will you be here tomorrow?' Every day, somebody thinks you hung the moon."
© The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.